A new Jo Spain book is always a treat. She is a sublime mistress of the plot twist so the anticipation is high and that can be a dangerous thing if there is a failure to deliver. Fortunately Ms. Spain DOES deliver. And how.
Geographically a departure from her previous books there is also a sense of departure from the tried and tested crime/thriller formula of offering a tantalising prologue that may or may not be littered with dead bodies or the confessions of flawed psychopaths. Here we begin with a happy, loving couple but before you’re barely ten pages in one of them is no more. And the other is in prison charged with murder! No mucking about then?!
I always like to call Jo’s books ‘onion’ books. Layer after layer is peeled off as the truths emerge. It’s almost a ménage à trois between reader, writer and plot! I often have the sense, as a reader, of being skilfully manipulated to arrive at certain conclusions only to be thwarted by a plot twist that can have you chuckling at the audacity and berating yourself for not seeing it. It was happening here a lot. Now there were things that I successfully figured out. Is that because I have developed an affinity with Jo Spain’s style and plotting? Or was it simply because I was allowed to by the writer?!
After the first two ‘bombshells’ the book then concentrates on unpeeling the layers of the past and allowing us to piece the jigsaw together. At times it was like a drip feed, slow and steady, yet the reader frenziedly turns the pages in a desperate sprint to find exactly what has happened. The title gives you a clue. A lie? One lie? Only one? Or is it to be – which one?
Considering their complex plots Jo’s books are easy to read. I think. I’m never quite sure! Is it because I am just racing through to find the answers?
Her characters are often difficult to fully warm to but I think a reader needs to stay objective. We learn that Erin is flawed by events of the past and I found myself feeling so sorry that she was so far away from home when tragedy strikes. And as we get to know Danny posthumously we realise he has his demons. So although on the surface this is ‘just’ a crime novel there were some deeper considerations of family and distance, truth, friendship, inherited wealth, the perception of women in certain situations, (I’m trying to hard not to give too much away here!) and even the political situation in the USA.
I’ve enjoyed all the Jo Spain books I’ve read so far. This is the fourth. And I’ll await the next eagerly.
Reviewed by Gill Chedgey
Published by Quercus (13 May 2021)
Hardback, ISBN 978-1529407242