Sunday, 7 August 2016
"Lie in Wait" G J Minett
Owen Hall has always been different. A big man with an unusual fixation, one who prefers to put his trust in number patterns rather than in people, it's unsurprising that he'd draw the attention of a bully.
Or a murder investigation.
And, in the storm of emotions and accusations that erupts when a violent killing affects a small community, it soon becomes clear that a particularly clever murderer might just get away with it.
All they'd need is a likely suspect . . .
This is one clever novel. No it's more than that, it is one incredibly clever novel. I'm not quite sure how Minett managed to pull off a story with so many different characters, all with their own backstories and secrets, and numerous sub plots that all weave a complex web of crime, murder, mystery and suspense. It's only his second novel, but Minett has so surely raised his game and shown that he is capable of controlling many separate threads; pulling them together seamlessly in a compelling thriller. I can't imagine how complicated his planning process was, but I have in mind some enormous spreadsheet littered with multicoloured post it notes and symbols! Or maybe something akin to one of Carrie Mathison's walls in Homeland or Prison Break's Michael Schofield tattoos!
Having said that, it is not a complicated book to read. There is a lot going on and there is a wide cast of characters but it does not in any way feel like a difficult read. It is engaging, accessible and fluent.
Minett makes life very easy for the reader with very clear headings at the start of each chapter - either Now or Earlier (yes, there's a dual timeline to cope with too!) and the date, and then the name of the character we are now following. The characters change within each section but again, even though their voices are distinctive and different, a name is provided. I found this immensely helpful as I was reading at such a pace it meant I wasn't distracted, confused or forced to retrace my steps at any point to make sense of who was talking and when. In fact, drawing attention to the dates and names actually made me pay more attention to chronology and encouraged me to try to start to put the jigsaw of clues together (which I totally failed on, obvs!).
The main character Owen is a really well crafted protagonist. Minett captures his awkward social and emotional personality with conviction. Owen is obsessed with numbers - their reliability and their consistency offer him a sense of calm and control. He reduces almost any situation into a sum, the answer then providing a decision or assurance of his next actions. Although intriguing, Owen evokes a huge sense of empathy from the reader in the opening prologue as he is obviously so clearly affected by the shocking disappearance of Julie from his taxi. But as the novel progresses I found myself in a continual dilemma about this character; innocent? Guilty? Victim? Perpetrator?
Whatever you think, there is a definite sense that this man could potentially become volatile, menacing or dangerous. I liked that. Never quite knowing what a character might do or what they might be capable of creates a huge amount of suspense and tension.
But Owen is not the only suspect or potential criminal. There are several. In fact, most of the characters in the book are deeply unpleasant, malicious, dangerous and dark. Their dialogue is blunt, colloquial and offensive but there is nothing gratuitous or cringe worthy, it is all impressively authentic and realistic. I found the passages of speech very filmic and really effective in capturing the real colours of these fictional players.
Abi, one of the female protagonists, is equally complex. I found myself changing my opinion of her several times and was never quite sure exactly what her motives were and whether I could fully trust her (don't be ridiculous Katherine, this is a thriller - you can't trust anyone!). I thought her relationship with Owen was really interesting. Minett explores memories of bullying, school days and the relationships between people that have grown up together and I enjoyed this aspect of the plot.
I am impressed with how well Minett can write from the perspective of several different characters with integrity and with such consistency and reliability throughout the entire novel. There are no holes, gaps, forced or contrived aspects of the plot; Minett writes with solid assurance.
To finish, I just want to mention the setting and location of the novel. There is immense detail about the exact places and scenery used in the book which helps to make the dark world in to which Minett leads us, more convincing and believable.
This is a crime thriller with an ingenious plot and vivid characters. Owen is a masterful creation. It is a really gritty, dark novel. I am hugely impressed with this, only Minett's second novel, and think it sets him up as a writer to watch out for in the future.
My thanks to NetGalley for an advanced copy of the book in return for a fair review.
"Lie in Wait" will be published as a ebook on 25th August, the same day that Minett's first novel, "The Hidden Legacy", will be published in paperback by Twenty 7, an imprint of Bonnier Zaffre.
"Lie in Wait" is released in paperback on 9th March 2017.
For more recommendations and reviews please follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk).
REVIEW OF "THE HIDDEN LEGACY" (archive post from Feb 2016)
This is an impressive and ambitious debut which follows two main story lines. The first is set in 1966 where a horrific crime with life lasting consequences has taken place at a school, the second in 2008 where a life changing gift is bequeathed to Ellen by someone she has never heard of. The novel, interweaving between the two narratives, sets out to solve the truth behind Ellen's mysterious benefactor leading her to question everything she thought she knew about her family and friends.
The story continues by alternating between the various narratives of Ellen, O'Hallaran, Peter Vaughan, John Michael Adams and Eudora's letters. This is an ambitious number of characters to juggle but each voice is realistic and convincing. The voice of shady journalist O'Hallaran, is particularly effective at reflecting his malicious intent and untrusting personality. Ellen's voice is a good contrast and her friend Kate adds some lightness to what could become a rather overwhelming story. Ellen's emotional journey about how she handles her discoveries is well judged and captures the internal conflict she feels, hinting at themes of judgement and redemption in the ending.
The reader is left to question their feelings about Eudora, Barbara and most interestingly John Michael Adams, who is guilty of the dreadful crime in 1966, which I thought was a brave stand for the author and gave the book more depth. Minett takes a taboo subject and explores it from an interesting angle. There is lots of detailed description and the characters are meticulously presented which sometimes, for me, impaired the action a little although it did reveal Minett to be a skilled writer. I think it is a sign of an accomplished and clever writer to successfully direct, manage and ultimately converge such a multilayered plot and successfully bring together so many narratives without confusing or losing the reader along the way. I did find that I really needed to keep an eye of the date, location and name of each section but the investment was worth it and each voice has a valid role within the plot.
It's a good read. I look forward to Minett's next book!