LET ME LIE by Clare Mackintosh
CBTB Rating: 4/5
The Verdict: slow-burning, lighter suspense with a killer ending
There are a handful of authors whose books have been central to Crime by the Book—and Clare Mackintosh is one of them. Clare’s debut novel I LET YOU GO was actually included in the first-ever bundle of “bookmail” I received for review on my blog (a story which I never tire of telling!), so her work will always hold a special place in my heart. In her debut I LET YOU GO, Clare proved that she can write psychological suspense that's emotional while also delivering major shock value (best plot twist ever!); in I SEE YOU, she wrote a more traditional and straightforward psychological thriller that I actually loved even more for its ability to deliver entertainment and tension without any frills. LET ME LIE showcases yet another facet of Clare’s talent, delving into a story that is perhaps her lightest in suspense yet, but that explores family dynamics - and secrets - to great effect. As always, I’ll be honest - I SEE YOU will probably always be my favorite of her books, and LET ME LIE didn’t dethrone it, but don’t let that deter you. LET ME LIE is heart-tugging, tense, and subtle… so subtle, in fact, that I didn’t even know how wrong everything I thought I knew was until the book’s gut-punch ending.
The police say it was suicide.
Anna says it was murder.
They're both wrong.
Last year, Tom and Caroline Johnson chose to end their lives, one seemingly unable to live without the other. Their daughter, Anna, is struggling to come to terms with her parents' deaths, unwilling to accept the verdict of suicide.
Now with a baby herself, Anna feels her mother's absence keenly and is determined to find out what really happened to her parents. But as she digs up the past, someone is trying to stop her.
Sometimes it's safer to let things lie....
There aren’t many authors who can reinvent themselves successfully in every new novel, but Clare has done it once again in LET ME LIE. Where her previous books (I SEE YOU in particular) were perhaps more instantly-accessible to readers of psychological thrillers, LET ME LIE will work perfectly for the reader who prefers lighter suspense with a welcome dose of interpersonal relationship tension and secrets. The core of this book is all about family, exploring how far we’ll go to keep those we love safe. Readers meet Anna Johnson, a young woman who is reeling from a triple-whammy of life changes—some tragic and some wonderful. In the past couple of years, both of Anna’s parents have committed suicide in a tragic sequence of events. To make things even more complicated and overwhelming, Anna has herself just become a mother to a baby girl. Weighed down by grief over her parents and adjusting to the enormity of motherhood, Anna is adrift… and perhaps just a bit disconnected from reality. Anna has long been suspicious about the circumstances surrounding her parents’ death - she refuses to believe they would willingly leave her - but when a bizarre happening gives her reason to doubt the suicide verdict in earnest, her world becomes even murkier.
One of Clare’s great strengths as a writer lies in her ability to craft ordinary characters who are fascinating in their relatability. I’m the first person to love an over-the-top thriller, but I also have a deep appreciation for the skill that it takes to write normal people who are still fascinating to observe. The characters in this book walk that delicate line between being ordinary without being boring, and being entertaining without being unrealistic in their moments of drama. Interestingly, the character whose story I found the most compelling wasn’t actually Anna - it was the retired police officer whom Anna inadvertently recruits to examine her parents’ closed suicide case. Don’t get me wrong - Anna and her family members have their own layered and complex relationship that is quite compelling. But the emotional heft of this story for me actually came in the character of Murray. Murray is a retired police officer who now spends his days working for the police in a civilian capacity. He essentially has a desk job, though he’s still qualified for so much more. When Anna (as the result of an outside impetus, which I won’t spoil for you here!) goes to the police to request that they re-open the case of her parents’ death, she happens to speak to Murray at the front desk - and his interest is so piqued that he begins investigating the case on his own.
Again, without spoiling any elements of LET ME LIE, I will say that I loved reading about such a dedicated, hard-working civil servant. So often, police officers can be that stereotypical “damaged detective”, the kind who drinks all the time and can’t sustain a healthy relationship. I love those characters too (hello, Harry Hole!), but it’s so refreshing to every now and then read about a really solid, moral police officer who is simply following a hunch and pursuing justice. To add to the emotional complexity of Murray’s character - and in the process, contribute to the book’s not-so-subtle theme of mental health - Clare has given Murray a complicated home life. Murray is incredibly dedicated to his beloved wife Sarah, who herself struggles with mental illness. Murray cares for her and supports her and loves her unconditionally—a truly endearing (albeit also quite tragic) storyline that offsets the drama and darkness of Anna’s family beautifully. There’s nothing romanticized about Sarah’s illness: readers witness her pain and her inner turmoil, but there’s also something very hopeful about seeing Murray care for his wife so well, and seeing her care for him and support him in return. And when set in contrast with the Johnson family… Murray and Sarah’s story becomes even more heart-tugging.
If there were one piece of this story that I would critique, it would be that certain elements of Anna's narrative did feel a bit repetitive to me—although I could also argue that this repetitiveness might be exactly how a real person would react, given the circumstances. Much of LET ME LIE focuses on Anna's inner turmoil: her ability (or lack thereof) to process the clues she's receiving about what really happened to her parents, and her decision making process (or, again, lack thereof) as pieces of the puzzle are revealed to her. I almost feel a bit hypocritical for questioning the way this element of the story plays out—in all reality, if I were finding out everything that Anna finds out about her parents in this book, I'm quite confident I'd find myself stuck in a bit of a cycle of disbelief myself. That being said, as a reader, I did wish for just a bit more forward movement as Anna pieces together the big picture of her parents' death. It's this element of the book that might not work as well for readers who prefer really fast-paced psychological suspense. The pacing of this book really clicked for me about halfway through, and once I reached the book's "Part Three," I was glued to the pages.
As with so many reviews that I write, your expectations will be key when you pick up this book. LET ME LIE certainly has a killer reveal (or two…) in store for readers, but it’s not the same earth-shattering twist that Clare delivered in I LET YOU GO. There are absolutely moments of tension and suspense in this story, but not as consistently as there are in I SEE YOU. LET ME LIE is its own breed of suspense novel entirely—a credit to its author's willingness to experiment and push the envelope. Clare is never a writer who delivers the same “cookie cutter” story over and over again - she’s consistently inventive and original, and LET ME LIE proves yet again why she has such a growing fan base both in the UK and US, and also around the world. Readers in the market for a lighter suspense novel focused more on interpersonal drama and tension than on edge-of-your-seat or in-your-face suspense will find LET ME LIE right up their alley.
(For the record: my personal favorite of Clare’s books is I SEE YOU, and I LET YOU GO still holds second place for me!)
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: Berkley (March 13, 2018)
Crime by the Book is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. This in no way affects my opinion of the above book.