Thursday, May 24, 2018

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

Earlier this year, in the span of 24 hours, I saw two of my favorite writers, Denise Mina and Rupert Thomson, both Tweet about the Irish writer Liz Nugent.  One for her upcoming UK title, Skin Deep, the other for her upcoming American release, Lying in Wait

This is clearly a sign to pay attention and meant that I had to get ahold of these books right away.  Which I sort of did.  The library had Nugent's first novel Unraveling Oliver but I had to wait a while until I got an advance copy of Lying in Wait.  (Technically, I can't get my hands on Skin Deep until it is published in the US, whenever that is.  Next year I'm guessing.)

While I was prepared for the hype, I was not prepared for the first lines in these books. 
Unraveling Oliver: "I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her."
Lying in Wait: "My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it."
Skin Deep: "I wondered when rigor mortis would set in, or if it already had."
Who isn't going to keep reading after opening lines like those?

In Lying in Wait, an Irish judge and his wife open the book by murdering a woman named Annie Doyle.  Why this has happened is not immediately clear.  It's complicated.  But once you murder someone, you've got a lot of work to do to get away with it, especially if you are not the murdering kind.  The story of why a judge and his wife would be in this situation and how it unfolds is told in alternating points of view from the wife, Lydia, her son, Laurence, and the victim's sister, Karen.

I too easily resort to calling things Hitchcockian (which is short-hand for a lot of tension and suspense, or anticipated fear, especially waiting to see if people are going to get caught).  But this is one of the greatest Hitchcockian things I've read in a long time.  Who will get caught?  Will they find the body? What else are these people capable of? What is Laurence thinking?

One of the other admirable qualities of this novel is that Nugent is very good at exploring the long lasting effects of trauma on people.  We learn about the mother's childhood and how it shapes her adult life.  We see how the murdering of Annie Doyle affects Laurence's childhood and early adulthood.  One gets a good understanding of why things have gone off the rails for these people - yet the suspense never lets up.  Not for a second.  And sometimes, when you least expect it, Nugent drops another surprise on the reader.  Endings are hard to do but the ending here is spellbinding.

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