Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Clare Mackintosh’s book Let Me Lie has the ultimate attention-grabber on its front cover. How could anyone resist – the police say it was suicide, Anna says it was murder, They’re both wrong – could you resist that? Accident, you say? But it’s also described as a ‘chilling, twisty psychological thriller that will have you racing towards its shocking conclusion.’ What do you have to say now?’ Right, read the book! Excellent response – the inroad to a deep thriller that really puts the chills into living in a suburb just minding its own business.
Anna Johnson and Mark Hemmings are unmarried but have a babe in arms, an eight-week old girl still feeding at her mother’s breast. Nineteen months have passed since Anna’s father threw himself off a cliff into the sea that took his life. His body was not recovered. A year later her mother followed suit. Anna is haunted by nightmares of her parents’ faces disfigured by the ocean. Sometimes, she says, her subconscious is kind.
I see them stepping into nothing and spreading their arms and swooping low above a blue sea that sends spray into their laughing faces. I wake gently then, a smile lingering on my face until I open my eyes and realise that everything is just the way it was when I closed them.
Anna’s father had left a text:
I cannot do this any more. The world will be a better place without me in it.
Then, on the anniversary of her father’s death, the grieving Anna receives an anonymous card that reads: Suicide? Think again.
There is a third party who inserts her/his point of view into the mind of the reader. It is as though people in the book and people reading the book both, in equal measure, dance to this manipulator’s command.
I will say no more about the story line, except to congratulate the author on story choice and reader/character manipulation (right to the very last word, I might add).
If you have read this far you’ll know that the story focuses on Anna and Mark and their baby, Ella. You’ll guess that the writing is tight and, as is customary but with my personal distaste, considered masculine. Claire Mackintosh is a seasoned writer with I Let You Go already published and I See You emerging from the publisher’s den about now.
Anna is drawn as an anxious young mother trying desperately to understand why her parents died in the way they did. The receipt of the anonymous note points her towards a belief that murder has been committed. Additional notes reinforce her belief. She takes the note to the police but not before a rather unsavoury Uncle Billy tears it into four pieces. The police team that investigated the deaths have written off any suggestion that a crime has been committed. However, an ex-detective, employed at a police facility in a civilian capacity, looks further into the apparent suicides.
Clare Mackintosh has lined up a motley crew of men who ‘coulda been’ villains. There’s Murray, the civilian ex-detective who carries a horrifying burden close to home, an uncle whose hands have not always been clean, a neighbour who seems to pop up in places one would not expect and who is desperate to extend part of his home to the detriment of Anna’s, and there is Mark, who often has something about his actions that Anna cannot quite accept. To add sauce to the pudding, Anna is a very wealthy woman.
Anna may cry a lot and succumb to despair at high tension moments but she is also a very strong woman whose moral fibre is tested more than once. She stays true to her principles and, in the long term, takes control of the circumstances that have held a number of the characters from making something of their lives.
It is comforting to believe that there are Anna Johnsons in this world. I’m sure I’ve met one somewhere. Like Anna in the book they do not advertise their presence, but do their bit unnoticed and unsung. Clare Mackintosh has written a ripper of a book, a disturbing book for many readers, and a book that intrigues right up to the very end. Loved it!
By Clare Mackintosh