Lie With Me - Sabine Durrant ****
It's not at all obvious where the mystery, crime or serious wrong-doing is for quite a long while into Sabine Durrant's new novel, Lie With Me, but there are a lot of warning signs being flagged up in relation to its narrator Paul Morris. It's suggested early on that he's writing from a prison or a place of confinement, and to be honest, even though the reason isn't clear, you wouldn't be a bit surprised that he's going to end up there one way or another. There are plenty of reasons not to like Paul Morris, and he's not at all shy of telling you about his failings, his deficiencies as a person and his unending capacity for lying.
But can we believe Paul and is he the only one lying? There are a lot of other strange occurrences and erratic behaviour in the people around him, but then it's hardly surprising that they might be suspicious of a guy who constructs such a tissue of lies around himself and his lifestyle. The author of a moderately successful novel a number of years ago, Paul hasn't had much success with his writing ever since, but you wouldn't know that from the boasts he makes to friends about the bidding wars taking place for his latest imaginary oeuvre. The lease has run out on the apartment of a friend where he was freeloading, and he's back living with his mother. Paul desperately needs another lifeline, and one seems to present itself in the form of an old school friend, Andrew, who he meets in a bookshop.
Things are even looking up on the romantic front, when Paul is introduced to Alice, but unable to help himself and wanting to impress this successful widow, Paul continues to create a fiction out of his own life. He knows he's making a trap for himself, particularly as his self-serving nature, his "Charmless callous ways", his caddish attitude towards women and his questionable behaviour can't help but let the mask slip occasionally. However, all that could be about to change. Paul thinks he might actually be in love with Alice, but feeling he needs to be accepted into the circle, he manages to get himself an invite to Alice's holiday home in Greece. All he needs now is to find the money to get over there. Unfortunately, trouble seems to dog Paul when he arrives at the Greek island and his plans go somewhat awry.
More than just being a thriller with stock character types - since a despicable character like Paul manages to keep us reading in the absence of any specific crime investigation - Lie With Me, as the title suggests (along with other implications), shows us that people aren't always who we think they are. There's a nice little moment of character revelation that Paul observes in Alice's teenage son, Louis. Typically sullen, withdrawn and monosyllabic, Paul (in a rare moment of sympathy) generously observes that he is just a boy, confused, awkward, uncomfortable in his skin and easily embarrassed. Without quite making the connection, Paul is exactly the same, a forty-four year old boy who has never grown up and had a responsible adult relationship. He's insensitive and can still make lewd observations about teenage girls without realising quite how sinister it seems. Paul's lack of self-awareness for a man his age however is clearly going to cost him dearly.
It's surely not just Paul though. His whole story fairly bristles with suspicion, passive antagonism and awkward behaviour in those around him. There are a number of disturbing incidents and one of them even stretches back 10 years ago to the last time Paul was on Pyros with this group of friends, when a teenage girl, Jasmine disappeared or was abducted. If you are to believe our unreliable narrator, it's hard to connect Paul to this incident, as he was mostly drunk and unaware of much that was going on, but there is no question that it is going to have some role to play in what develops as Alice has been working tirelessly to solve the mystery of her disappearance. Durrant handles it all marvellously, weaving in some degree of ambiguity not only about the actions and behaviour of some of the other characters, but also in how the reader is led to feel about Paul.
It's all handled terribly well up that is until the unravelling of the mystery and the introduction of the twists. There's some stretching of credibility in motivation, situation and circumstance which relies rather a lot on coincidence and chance, but that's the nature of the psychological thriller beast. There's no point complaining that it adheres to the form, what matters is whether it's a good example of it or not. That's evidently for the individual reader to decide, but Sabine Durrant leaves enough open questions to give you room to suspend disbelief. What is important however is that Lie With Me works within the narrative rules it has established. Viewing it through the words of Paul himself - a fiction writer let's not forget - Durrant holds faithfully to the established characterisation without the reader feeling that they've been misled or cheated at any point. Or lied to.
Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant is published by Mulholland Books on 27th July 2016.
Lie With Me - Sabine Durrant ****