‘At first I mistook the severed head for something else. It wasn’t until I was very close that I realised it was Lucy.’

I do love an effective opening sentence, and my word this one grabbed me. To my delight, the words and chapters that followed were equally compelling, and all of a sudden it was 2am and I’d devoured ‘the lies we told’ in one sitting.

It was simply impossible to put down, and unlike some stories which focus on two characters, two gradually merging storylines, I was equally hooked by both narratives and it was never a case of wanting to read just one more chapter – I needed to know what on earth was going on.

But let’s start at the beginning.

What’s it about?

There’s a daughter: Hannah. Beth has always known her daughter is a little…off, but Hannah’s delight in hurting others is about to reach new and frightening depths.

There’s a son: Luke. His perfect life and perfect family are put under glass when he vanishes, with girlfriend Clara desperate to find him.

Clara begins to excavate the past, and uncovers a link between Luke’s long-lost sister, Emily, and a very dangerous woman called Hannah.

This is a story based on lies, secrets, revenge and, most poisonous of all, envy.

What’s it like?

Utterly compelling, ‘the lies we told’ plunges you into a nightmare world from the opening sentences and keeps you breathlessly enthralled until the stunning climax. There are no clumsy cliffhangers, just perfectly developed sequences of events that continually hint at further revelations, and those revelations continue to bite.

I do think there’re a lot of echoes of Lionel Schriver’s wonderfully disturbing novel. ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’, but I was pleased to see Way take the story in a new direction. I love books that are like onions, where layers are peeled off and force you to completely re-evaluate what went before.

I don’t want to say anything more about the plot, but it’s worth noting that the characterisation is utterly convincing and that the pace is perfectly judged as Clara’s discoveries mount up. My only criticism? Clara must be a little bit blind not to notice a certain character’s feelings. She’s not a doormat, but she’s not the brightest when it comes to interpersonal relationships / meeting total strangers off the internet.

Speaking of blindness, no-one seems to realise a key clue about a certain situation (I really can’t be any clearer here without giving away key details!) What’s more, they never realise. But then again, I never properly thought it through until the ending prompted me to do so, and it’s easy to think of someone so dangerous as being almost omniscient. I’m going to blame the thrill-ride of the plot for distracting me from my detective role!

The idea that ‘boys will be boys’

Like many psychological thrillers I have read lately, Way has something to say about men here. Men who present themselves as decent, believe themselves to be decent, but occasionally – or even frequently – behave in ways that are deeply misogynistic, but somehow culturally ingrained as a bit naughty but acceptable, because it’s a man committing them and, well, men will be boys, eh, wink wink, nudge, nudge. Way draws explicit attention to this (frankly rather infuriating and sociologically accurate) state of affairs and the ending includes some appropriate punishments.

Obviously I’m not suggesting the women here are all purer than freshly fallen snow, (Hannah is a terrifying sociopath who will happily bend anyone to her will) but there is certainly a cultural norm on show here. A decent man can do (almost) anything and be seen by society as a decent man. This is increasingly recognised, discussed and obliquely critiqued by recent thrillers, which seems generally likely to be beneficial, if society can take these criticisms as an opportunity to re-evaluate it’s treatment of men.

Final thoughts

‘the lies we told’ is a compelling tale of cover-ups and consequences, which concludes with a chilling coda.

It is relentlessly dramatic – but that’s to be expected where there is a sociopath involved!

Recommended for all domestic noir / psychological thriller fans.

‘the lies we told’,
Camilla Way,
2018, HarperCollins, paperback

This is another fabulous CrimeFest18 book.