When Isa Wilde receives a text from Kate in the middle of the night, she knows she is not the only one. And she knows her friends’ answers will be the same; I’m coming.
Within hours, Isa has made her excuses with her long-term partner, and she and her baby are on the train, heading for the sleepy coastal village of Salten. That night, she, Kate, Fatima and Thea are finally reunited. But this is no happy reunion. It is 17 years of secrets falling apart. It is a discovery, after 17 years in hiding. And if they don’t get their stories straight, it is the end of the lying game – and maybe even their lives.
Ruth Ware for me is an unknown quantity, and I wondered if this was to be another wannabe Girl On The Train as I leafed through the first couple of pages. Within minutes, the author had drawn me in with exceptional senses-driven writing, and her enormous capacity for laying on the suspense with tiny details.
Written mostly in the present tense from the first person point of view, she creates proximity and intimacy with not just the main character, but also all the major characters. They leap off the page like gazelles, and burst into disturbingly real, flawed but likeable people. Backstory comes in the form of retrospective school-day scenes, where the four girls are just as authentic, bouncing between teenage angst and youthful exhilaration.
Isa, as a new mother, is utterly convincing with her fatigue, negative feelings, and simmering neuroses about her daughter’s safety. Kate is crumbling in harmony with her run-down mill. And although they get a little less air-time, we feel Thea’s barely-concealed anorexia and Fatima’s religion for what they perhaps are; coping mechanisms for their burdened past.
I haven’t bothered to check out the tiny village on Google maps; for me, Salten is now a real place – and a vaguely sinister one. Ware beautifully paints the mill, the girls’ school and the marshes as joyous places when seen through the eyes of the four main characters’ teenage perspective, and dark, brooding backdrops from Isa’s eyes now. The milieus almost take on a life of their own, adding to atmosphere and, indirectly, character development.
However, Isa’s relationship problems with her partner do not entirely convince me, especially when there is a belated reference to them having had problems already. It tugged at my suspension of disbelief for a moment, smacking of an afterthought being used to cover up an inconsistency.
The plot is relatively predictable, and although there are twists, either the foreshadowing is heavy-handed or I have read too many books in this genre. The story held few OMG moments. However, this weak point did not detract from the sheer pleasure of reading such a well-paced, three-dimensional book. It was rather like re-watching a much-loved DVD, just because the acting is so good.
This is an excellent trip down memory lane, to those turbulent schooldays that few passed through unscathed, combined with suspense and atmosphere, and a good plot. For readers who are hungry for an easy but fast-paced read with plenty of insight, The Lying Games should go to the top of the list.