Toll of time and tragedy
When an old friend is reluctant to meet, the reason may be malign.
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.