Something about The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle caught my attention. Maybe it was the fact that it was a something of a publishing phenomenon last year. Maybe it was the possibility of a literary thriller. Perhaps it was the historical elements. Whatever it was, the publisher’s marketing material worked, and I decided to read it.
I found it to be an at times slow-moving, but creative, mix of history, espionage and confidence games. The beginning took patience. It wasn’t so much that I wanted to stop reading but it felt like the story took too long to get started. Somehow the early set-up between Ray and Betty felt both slow and yet thin. Perhaps that feeling is meant to push you forward to unravel the mystery; the unease part of the tension.
But once the novel finds its rhythm and momentum, it is a captivating exploration of how each character came to find themselves facing off in their twilight years. Betty’s back story was particularly well done and tension filled. But again when the present and the past come together it feels a bit of let down and I thought the ending section on Roy a little odd and over-the-top.
Editorial reviews breakdown on a glass half full or half empty type spectrum.
Publishers Weekly is glass half full:
Equal parts crime novel and character study, the tale is itself an elegantly structured long con. The pace is almost maddeningly deliberate, with details about the characters and their schemes doled out like a controlled substance, but patient readers will be rewarded with devastating third-act twists and a satisfying denouement.
Kirkus is glass half empty:
The plot twist that leads to this revelation is complex and rooted in World War II. But once we understand the true natures of both characters, their past relationship, and their plans for revenge, the ending is relatively unsurprising. One of the greatest strengths of the novel is how Searle recounts Betty’s troubled history with sensitivity, but Roy never advances much beyond what he first appears: a gruff sociopath who, expectedly, will finally get his comeuppance for past sins. Despite the efforts to comment on a time in history when people made unimaginable choices that led to devastating tragedy, the novel mostly fails to resonate. Even with layers, the characters fail to inspire much deep interest or sympathy.
The truth is interesting and unexpected, but it takes too long to unravel.
I can see both see both sides. It does take a while to build momentum and the ending felt odd. Still, the multi-layered meaty middle was quite compelling and for a debut model it is pretty impressive.