[London 1973] He was just thinking of climbing uncomfortably from the sofa and brewing a cup of tea for himself when an impatient rap came on the front door of the shop…
A short, snappily dressed young man stood on the other side of the glass door, He looked impatiently at Roy, who looked him up and down, taking in his chalk-stripe suit with wide lapels and flared trousers, his Chelsea boots, his wispy moustache, his Brylcreemed hair and his cocky expression. He knew his type: on the make and in a hurry. No doubt there was some angle here and Roy would have to hear him out: some special offer on some tame porn or knock-off booze or suchlike. Well he would listen politely.
[A country house, England, 1957]
Roy was there to make up the party, as Lady Dorothy did not like to dine with odd numbers at her table…. They would dress for dinner only on the Saturday.
[Roy is driving one of the guests] ‘His Lordship asked me to emphasize that this is an informal weekend.Relaxed. Emphatically not a duty weekend. He wants everyone to feel completely at ease. No discussion of politics or other matters of government. No, um, standing on ceremony.’
[at dinner] Sylvia looked across the table at him with what she judged to be suitably disguised desire… He was beautiful, simply beautiful..
commentary: Here’s a book to grab you, pull you in, and keep you reading. It starts off gently enough, and you have quite a bit of info, and a clue to what is going on. And then Nicholas Searle starts playing with your ideas, in a wholly satisfying way.
Searle is full of surprises – his author bio suggests that bland ‘retired civil servant’ description is covering something more intriguing, but the real question is why he has waited so long before delighting us with this book, and we can only hope he has some more in him. There are definite echoes of John Le Carre here, but also the separate plot sections of The Good Liar could easily have provided four or five books.
The Liar is (isn’t it?) Roy, whom we meet as he prepares to soft-soap Betty – they are both in their 80s, and have met on a dating site. Roy is obviously up to no good (he is pretty much an unrelievedly bad hat throughout the book, in very different ways) and we can tell that he is out to con Betty, a wealthy widow. But we are also aware that Betty is not as simple as he thinks, she has her own agenda. So far so good.
Slowly we go backwards through Roy’s life – this structure often annoys me very much, but it was completely justified in this particular case. And about halfway through, Searle springs a surprise that has you threading back through the pages for the (well-placed) clues. And the story is far from done, and there are more surprises.
Part of the book is in the present tense - another potential annoyance, but in this case justifiable as it make it clear whether the action is now or in the past.
As must be clear, I thought it was terrific, and after I’d finished it I didn’t re-read it, but I did go back to look at various cleverly worded sections, and to admire Searle’s excellent writing skills.
My friend Col at Col’s Criminal Library liked this one as much as I did – review here. It’s the cusp book where our blogs collide!
Apparently the book was originally going to be titled The Reckoning - I think The Good Liar is a much better name for it.
So I’ve kept it simple. The top picture is a 70s wideboy from an advert, the lower picture shows toffs being social in 1957.