Who’s Lying Now? by Susan Lewis
This is a very clever and brilliantly constructed book. Written from several points of view, in that various female characters are the subject of the various chapters, and flashbacks are carefully deployed, this is a masterly display of creating a who dunnit, or at least what happened which never disappoints. Who to trust, who has something to hide, and what actually happens becomes a preoccupation for every character in this book, not only Clara, a young woman charged with investigating a disappearance, but also everyone involved in a complex web of networks that dominate the area. It is also set in the final weeks of 2020 and the early months of 2021, when lockdowns and restrictions made people feel unsure; when social distancing, wearing masks and online interviews made for uncertainty about people’s real expressions and intentions. This is a contemporary mystery which harks back to some events that happened previously, but crucially is mainly set in an uncertain time. It is an enthralling novel, and I was very pleased to have had the opportunity to read and review it.
The novel opens with Jeannie Symonds, a wealthy publisher with a reputation for being tough, on a long phone call with her assistant on 6th January 2021. She spots someone outside her big and comfortable house, the landscaper responsible for transforming the extensive grounds of her country home on the coast. Receiving a note she decides to leave her home quietly. That departure creates a mystery that forms much of the drive of that book. Twelve days later a young trainee investigator, Cara, is assigned to look into Jeannie’s disappearance, as referred to the police by Andee, an ex- detective. She had been contacted by Jeannie’s husband Guy, a charismatic surgeon, who had appeared in the Seafront cafe of a mutual friend, Fliss. As Cara is introduced to the case, she is made aware that Jeannie apparently has a history of short term disappearances, partly in accordance with her somewhat mercurial temperament. Guy was not immediately concerned that his wife was not present when he returned from London, but eventually sought help from Fliss when she did not turn up. All that is known is that her car is missing, and that it is particularly difficult to go and stay anywhere in a time of lockdown. Fliss is well known to Andee and indeed the community. Her ex husband, Neil, is a landscaper and gardener much in demand in the area. Their teenage son Zac has largely grown up in his house which he shares with his second wife, the excitable Estelle and their daughter, nine year old Chloe. Zac has been staying with Fliss during the recent lockdowns, and between studying for A levels working for his father. Estelle is an unusual character who had written a successful novel some time ago, but is now estranged from her ex publisher Jeannie. She has a personal assistant, Primrose or Prim, who has become a member of the family. As Cara and Andee investigate the disappearance of the older women, the rather convoluted relationships in the community and beyond become even more stained, with everyone’s relationships and possible motives coming under scrutiny, even when there is uncertainty that a crime has even taken place.
This is a completely enthralling novel to read as the characters are so well drawn and consistent, and the threads which draw them together and are under strain are fascinating. The pandemic elements are ambitious as so many authors are not yet tackling this time in detail in my experience, yet it is not overbearing. I recommend this novel as a great achievement and a really good read, taking the reader alongside the characters as they discover the truth and lies of a complex situation.