The Good Liar by Nicholas Searle

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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.

The Good Liar Book Cover The Good Liar
Nicholas Searle
Fiction
Harper
February 2, 2016
352

Spinning a page-turning story of literary suspense that begins in the present and unwinds back more than half a century, this unforgettable debut channels the haunting allure of Atonement as its masterfully woven web of lies, secrets, and betrayals unravels to a shocking conclusion. Veteran con artist Roy spots an obvious easy mark when he meets Betty, a wealthy widow, online. In no time at all, he’s moved into Betty’s lovely cottage and is preparing to accompany her on a romantic trip to Europe. Betty’s grandson disapproves of their blossoming relationship, but Roy is sure this scheme will be a success. He knows what he’s doing. As this remarkable feat of storytelling weaves together Roy’s and Betty’s futures, it also unwinds their pasts. Dancing across almost a century, decades that encompass unthinkable cruelty, extraordinary resilience, and remarkable kindness, The Good Liar is an epic narrative of sin, salvation, and survival—and for Roy and Betty, there is a reckoning to be made when the endgame of Roy’s crooked plot plays out.

Kevin Holtsberry
I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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