I was rather chuffed to be asked onto the blog tour for Harriet Tyce‘s second novel, The Lies You Told. I eagerly ripped open the envelope and delved straight in. It had barely left postie’s hand!
My lovely wife had really enjoyed Tyce’s debut, Blood Orange and I had to get my book mark in quick to bagsie The Lies You Told, denying her the chance to read it first.
The book promised to be a thriller with dark and chilling plot twists. On the face of it this is not something I would ordinarily pick up. Joining the blog tour gave me reason to step outside my reading comfort zone. And I’m so, so pleased I did.
Our main character, Sadie finds herself with no choice but to leave her life in America, returning to London, the city of her childhood. Her life has taken some sinister turns with her husband and she packs and leaves with her daughter, Robin. In running from her present life she finds herself arriving in a past she had previously rejected.
Returning to the home of her childhood, Sadie rediscovers the haunting memories of an estranged and emotionally painful relationship with her late mother. There are many strands to this book, the mystery of her husband’s behaviour in America plays against the unravelling of her mother’s last wishes. The truths of these parallel stories are only drip fed to the reader in the clever narrative.
The chapters build the plot in layers. As more characters gradually enter the fray they add texture and depth, the tensions and dramas build. In fact, the long distance runner in me found the pace was like a well executed marathon. The early stages feel comfortable and the pain, tension, suffering all mount as the intensity rises. I particularly enjoyed this. Rather than throw me all of the juicy bits early, Harriet Tyce kept me turning the pages, eager to see where I was being taken to next.
Back in London, and with her daughter attending the select and competitive school of her own childhood, Sadie finds herself embroiled in school gate politics. These are particularly cruel and elitist fellow mums and Sadie is soon struggling to fit in. The same is happening inside the school for Robin. The world of education amongst the higher classes appears to be more vicious and cruel than at any level I’ve ever experienced. No plot spoilers, but these parents harbour deeply sinister secrets and some will stop at nothing.
More and more threads starting weaving their way into the story as Sadie, after linking up with an old friend and colleague, returns to the legal world as a junior barrister. The case she ends up working on involves defending a teacher accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a student. I’ll avoid spoilers again, but the twists start coming thick and fast once Sadie is back in chambers and in the court room. The anxieties of the school community and the never-far-away mystery of her failing marriage loom large in Sadie’s mind as she tries to focus on her role in court.
Interspersed through the book are vignettes of Sadie’s state of mind as Tyce hints at dramas yet to unfold. This is a clever tool, placing these fears and doubts in the readers mind before returning the narrative to the present. I have no idea what an ‘airport’ novel is, but I could easily imagine picking this up (assuming we are able to travel anytime soon) in an airport book shop and be racing through the furiously paced final chapter before unpacking my suitcase.
Clearly written from a position of knowledge, the courtroom drama is full of rich and satisfying detail. The uncertainty about the past, present and future of the book’s varied cast is exaggerated by Sadie being the narrator; sometimes the reader is ahead of her as her attention switches between the different avenues the story takes. I like that the tale unfolds in Sadie’s own voice and the added possibility of her not always being the most reliable narrator.
The book is perfect if you’re looking for a multi layered, thriller which gradually ups the ante as you turn the pages. It will also satisfy readers who are trying to work out who can or cannot be trusted – and be warned you might finish the book still not convinced about that.
Harriet Tyce grew up in Edinburgh before studying English at Oxford University. She went on to do a law conversion course at City University. Her subsequent MA in Creative Writing – Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia followed 10 years of practise as a criminal barrister.
She lives in North London where her cat, Dougal, is very proud of her writing achievements.