A new page-turner from ‘Big Lit­tle Lies’ au­thor

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Television - BY TAYLA BUR­NEY

Liane Mo­ri­arty is a mas­ter of sus­tained ten­sion. You’d think her a di­a­bol­i­cal sadist if her nov­els didn’t also make you wish she were a friend you could meet for cof­fee and a spot of gos­sip. But she does de­light in de­lay­ing a re­veal, as fans of her smash hit “Big Lit­tle Lies” know, hav­ing waited un­til the fi­nal pages - or frames if they watched the HBO minis­eries - to find out not just who­dunit, but who was dead. Mo­ri­arty’s lat­est novel, “Nine Per­fect Strangers,” is a locked­door mys­tery, but the mys­tery it­self re­mains a mys­tery for much of the book. There’s a gen­eral sense of fore­bod­ing that builds, but what it’s build­ing to and which of the nine is and isn’t a vic­tim is a per­plex­ing puz­zle.

The tit­u­lar strangers con­verge on a re­mote lux­ury health re­sort, Tran­quil­lum House, where they’re promised not just re­ju­ve­na­tion, but rein­ven­tion. Many are un­happy with their phys­i­cal selves. Most are re­cov­er­ing from emo­tional wounds or avoid­ing ma­jor life de­ci­sions. The ma­jor­ity ar­rive alone, though one cou­ple hop­ing to save their mar­riage and an­other with their col­lege-aged daugh­ter em­pha­size the ways in which we can be strangers even to those who should know us best.

Their so­cioe­co­nomic dif­fer­ences mat­ter be­cause soon after the re­treat be­gins the group is asked to ob­serve a “no­ble si­lence” meant to clear ev­ery­one’s heads. The

By Liane Mo­ri­arty

Flat­iron. 464 pp. $28.99 si­lence en­velops the group as it be­comes in­creas­ingly clear to read­ers that - even those who’ve never set an un­man­i­cured toe in a spa - they should be bolt­ing for the ex­its. As the staff be­gins ma­nip­u­lat­ing the guests in truly bizarre ways, the strangers form opin­ions of the other char­ac­ters based on their own as­sump­tions, in­se­cu­ri­ties and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties.

Al­ter­nat­ing nar­ra­tors usher us through brisk chap­ters pro­vid­ing glimpses into the in­ner thoughts of each char­ac­ter. Our main guide is an au­thor, Frances. It’s clear that Mo­ri­arty is hav­ing a bit of fun with us and it’s through Frances that we’re let in on the joke.

Whether you en­joy this novel or find it con­found­ing will largely come down to whether you feel you’re in on the joke or that it’s be­ing made at your ex­pense.

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