Lie in Wait

Last year I read and LOVED G. J. Minett’s debut novel, ‘The Hidden Legacy’.

Since then I’ve been looking forward to reading his second novel, so I was delighted to be offered the opportunity to read¬†it ahead of publication.¬†‘Lie in Wait’ is very different from Minett’s first novel – there’s an ongoing police investigation as the central murder here is contemporary rather than historical – but his writing still focuses first and foremost on characterisation.

What’s it about?

Owen Hall is a vulnerable adult. Deprived of oxygen as a baby, bullied as a child and noticeable for his odd preoccupations as an adult, it’s not surprising that Owen has experienced some difficulties in his personal relationships. Being suspected of murder is a new insult, and he’s determined not to allow suspicion to elevate to accusation.

When a generally unlikeable man is murdered, it seems that a very clever murderer might just get away with it – as long as they can provide a likely suspect…

What’s it like?

Complicated. Devious. Conversational.

Owen is an intriguing central character. His frequent misreading of situations and people leads to consequences that would naturally provoke readers’ sympathies – except that he gets it so wrong that he’s often intensely frustrating! (‘You can’t ask someone else to come and sit next to you at your husband’s funeral, can you? Even if it is what you want more than anything else.’)

Abi is another fascinating character. Whereas her husband is merely a charming, soulless bully, Abi is a mystery. What does she see in Callum? What exactly is her relationship with her male ‘friend’ at work? Is she using Owen? The joy of the plot development is that, up til the final quarter of the book, the possibilities remain open regarding who, exactly, is manipulating who.

In the meantime, there’s a lot of conversation, between Abi and Owen, Owen and the police, the police and a security guard, and…oh everyone! This is a world in which character is key and conversations are not just about revealing plot twists, but about speculation and learning how other people think.

What’s to like?

I love Minett’s writing style. Owen’s chapters are dominated by punchy sentence fragments, emphasising his disconnection¬†with the¬†world and the people around him. Local gangster Ezra Cunningham is urbane, polite and vicious in his dialogue. Abi’s chapters are more reflective, emphasising her deep awareness of the perceptions she’s creating in the world. (‘[Her friend] broke off, apparently lost for words which, for a novelist, seemed anomalous enough to pass for a compliment.’)

When he does apply descriptive touches, they are often delightful: ‘she skipped breakfast and made do with a coffee so strong the spoon baulked at entering.’ and ‘Normally they all dreaded it when she was in charge because she had such a way of adding to the stress of the day, you could almost comb it out of your hair by the time you got home.’ There are so many more quotes I’d love to share, but I’m conscious that I don’t want to give away too many of the book’s treasures!

Speaking of treasures, the opening chapter – just like ‘The Hidden Legacy’ – is superb. Gripping, baffling, a little chilling. Who is Julie? What happened to her? Who is Willie? And what on earth could be in those photographs? All will be revealed, but it’s a truly perplexing puzzle at the outset and I defy any reader not to read a large chunk of the story in their first sitting!

Final thoughts

My personal circumstances made reading about Owen’s experiences a little challenging. As elder sibling to two vulnerable adults, my heckles rose when Owen was manipulated by other characters and I found it¬†impossible to leave behind my instinctive anger at¬†his treatment. I think this severely affected my own response to the story and I was initially convinced that I didn’t like it. After a period of reflection, I’m struck by how cleverly Minett weaves the disparate threads of his plot together, and I think I would enjoy this a lot more on a second reading – provided I can leave protective big sister behind!

Initially I felt a little overwhelmed by the quick introduction of a number of characters, but the novel soon settles down, focusing primarily on a handful of key voices. Towards the end I was surprised by the shift in focus. I don’t want to spoil the plot so I can’t say anymore, but the direction change is perfectly in keeping with everything that went before and with the feel of the novel as a whole. After all, this is a novel that’s fundamentally about people and manipulation, not solving the crime.

Intriguing characters, a clever plot and another gripping opening. I shall look forward to book three!

‘Lie in Wait’,
G. J. Minett,
2016, Bonnier Zaffre, ebook

Want to know more? You can find G. J. Minett’s website here and my interview with him here.

Thanks to the publishers for providing me with a free copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.