Toll of time and tragedy

When an old friend is re­luc­tant to meet, the rea­son may be ma­lign.

New Zealand Listener - - BOOKS & CUL­TURE - By MICHELE HE­WIT­SON

Martha grew up to be­come a fa­mous telly star. Liv seems to have dis­ap­peared from Lon­don. Juliet is pre­sumed dead. Her bike was found by the side of the river 17 years ago, when the three teenage girls were best friends who told each other ev­ery­thing. Or so Martha thought.

BEAU­TI­FUL LIARS (Trapeze, $34.99) by Is­abel Ash­down is the story of the van­ished girl and of long-ago friend­ships that have also van­ished – ex­tin­guished by tragedy and loss and time.

Martha has a new tele­vi­sion show, about un­solved crimes. The first case to fea­ture will be that of Juliet. Her body has never been found. No­body has been con­victed for her mur­der. The prime sus­pect was a lo­cal char­ity worker, Alan Sher­man, who ran a mo­bile food-for-the-home­less ser­vice with the help of lo­cal teenagers, in­clud­ing the three girls. He, too, van­ished af­ter the in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Martha tracks Liv down and Liv re­sponds. But she is oddly reluctant to meet. This is be­cause she is not Liv, but an odd and grotesquely obese woman called Casey who lives, reclu­sively, in the house she bought from Liv. Casey is ob­sessed with Liv and Martha. Her real iden­tity is as much a rid­dle as what hap­pened to Juliet.

It’s nice on teenage fe­male friend­ships and a top-notch idea for a mur­der mys­tery but the di­a­logue’s dis­ap­point­ingly ho-hum.

Peter May is in top form with I’LL KEEP

YOU SAFE (River­run, $29.99), which has it all: the sniffy, silly high-end fash­ion scene in Paris; a Rus­sian mis­tress; a car bomb and,

most com­pellingly, the rugged, iso­lated Isle of Lewis in the He­brides, where the At­lantic gales shape the land­scape and the char­ac­ters of its in­hab­i­tants.

Ni­amh and Ruairidh are a mar­ried cou­ple who live on the is­land, where they have taken over a small weav­ing com­pany which pro­vides fine cloth to posh Parisian fash­ion houses. Ni­amh sus­pects her hus­band is hav­ing an af­fair with a Rus­sian de­signer. There is a con­fronta­tion, in Paris, af­ter which her hus­band and the de­signer are killed by a car bomb.

That is the case to be solved but the strength of May’s book is the ex­am­i­na­tion of a child­hood ro­mance, on a lit­tle is­land, which ap­pears to have ended in a happy mar­riage gone badly awry. That is the real mys­tery.

The PANIC ROOM (Ban­tam Press,

$37) of the pro­lific Robert God­dard’s lat­est thriller is a mys­te­ri­ous steel-lined and seem­ingly im­pen­e­tra­ble void, se­cured from the in­side, within a Cor­nish man­sion owned by a re­cently dis­graced and very rich pharma busi­ness­man, Jack Hark­ness.

He lives in Lon­don, un­der house ar­rest. The Cor­nish house is looked af­ter by a young woman, Blake, who knows lit­tle about Hark­ness and noth­ing about the ex­is­tence of the panic room. She has her own murky past. She may not be a very nice per­son.

The house is to be sold. A down-on-his­luck real es­tate agent, Don Chal­lenor, who has just been sacked from his last job for un­eth­i­cal deal­ings, is given the job – via his ex-wife, who is Hark­ness’s es­tranged wife’s lawyer – of mea­sur­ing up and valu­ing the es­tate. There is a lo­cal witch who hates Hark­ness and sus­pects that he killed her lit­tle brother many decades ago. There are for­eign heav­ies who turn up want­ing ac­cess to Hark­ness’s miss­ing mil­lions, which may or may not be in the panic room. There is a miss­ing woman, whose father Blake once worked for.

There is, in short, what ought to be a be­wil­der­ing cast of char­ac­ters – none of them very nice – and a plot that ought to im­plode due to the num­ber of rot­ten red her­rings jammed into its pages.

But it man­ages to be a rip­per read and has the bonus of be­ing very funny in parts.

The young woman look­ing af­ter the house has her own murky past. She may not be a very nice per­son.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.