Author Lisa Hall is back with another psychological thriller to follow her best-selling first novel, Between You & Me. Set in South London, Tell Me No Lies is an easy read with a deceptively slow start. One minute, you’re plodding along, not expecting much of anything at all, and in the next moment you’re trapped, like a chicken in the jaws of a starving fox.
Stephanie and Mark Gordon, along with their young son Henry, move to a new home for a ‘make or break’ fresh start to their rocky marriage. Haunted by the past, Steph needs to be strong if she wants to save her relationship and keep her family together. With another child on the way, a part-time job and a hubby who works abroad for weeks at a time, the pressure is intense and she struggles to juggle morning sickness and the school run with her work commitments and medical appointments.
Soon, strange things are happening at home and she’s convinced it’s just a case of ‘baby brain’ making her forgetful and confused. As events take a sinister turn, Steph becomes increasingly paranoid – is someone playing tricks or is her imagination running wild? Mark and Dr Bradshaw, her psychiatrist, are dismissive of her fears but she finds support from two friendly neighbours: Lila, the bubbly and mysterious brunette from across the street, and Laurence, the handsome and attentive bachelor living next door.
Nine chapters in, I was intrigued but far from engrossed. The book was easy to put down and I was in no rush to resume reading. As a born and bred Londoner, I struggled to believe the Blackheath setting, feeling transported to a country village populated with every conceivable stereotype.
Think annoying busy-bodies, welcoming neighbours, competitive school mums and an over-friendly, local shopkeeper. Even the obligatory village idiot makes the cut – a role fulfilled by Mark although his wife arguably challenges him for the title in several chapters.
Mid-way through the novel, I was finally hooked. I knew how the story would unfold but my confidence alternated with second guessing myself each time the author introduced a new clue. Some of the red herrings are obvious but Hall skilfully leads the reader on a winding journey towards an unexpected destination. I managed to foresee the story’s conclusion with accuracy, but I hadn’t anticipated one final, staggering twist. Bravo, Lisa Hall – you shocked me!
This unexpected plot curve is far-fetched but more than enough to cancel out the book’s slow start. I even forgive Hall’s unattractive characters, who made me want to hurl the book across the room in frustration! Four year old Henry and sexy Laurence are the only semi-appealing individuals throughout the novel. Dr Bradshaw is an odious man, Lila is overbearing and the school mums are far worse.
Mark and Steph are equally annoying – he for his insensitivity and her for being stupid. Many of the creepy occurrences in the book can be investigated by Steph fairly easily: a few clicks on Amazon to order some camera equipment, a quick phone call to a local security firm to get a home alarm fitted – basic common sense for the rest of us but apparently inconceivable to Steph.
The author establishes this lack of wisdom by trivialising Steph’s career early on in the novel, implying that it’s an unchallenging profession. In reality, Steph’s niche requires an investigative mind and plenty of tenacity. Also, as a mum and a professional, she should be more aware of basic security measures for her computer and mobile phone.
I found it difficult to reconcile this knowledge with Steph’s behaviour throughout the narrative. ‘Baby brain’ offers a convenient excuse but, in Steph’s case, it seems to act as a lobotomy. Of course, every good thriller relies on the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief so, while these plot holes grated, they didn’t affect my overall desire to finish the novel.
As Steph questioned everything happening in her world, Hall had me questioning every move, every response, every conversation in the plot – building to a gut-wrenching climax. Tell Me No Lies is an absorbing thriller, infused with tension and mystery, diversions and smokescreens. When the haze finally clears and, at last, everything becomes clear, you’ll be left wondering if the true nightmare has only just begun.
A disturbing tale, likely to cement Lisa Hall’s reputation as one of the UK’s best new thriller writers.
Publisher: Carina Release Date: 20th October 2016