Tell Me Lies by J.P. Pomare

Reviewed by Rod McLary

In his third novel [following Call Me Evie and In the Clearing – both reviewed in these pages by this reviewer], JP Pomare again explores the grey area between truth and lie and the unfortunate – and sometimes tragic – consequences which fall on those caught between the two.  But as Shakespeare almost said ‘truth will out’ and a mystery will always be solved.  It is the journey towards the outing of the truth and the solving of the mystery which is the heart of this novel.

Margot Scott is a clinical psychologist with a somewhat unethical incident in her past which is alluded to but about which the whole truth is not revealed until towards the end of the novel.  To make matters even more interesting, there is a link between the other person involved in the incident and one of her current clients.  Margot has three clients who are integral to the story:  Joe – a moderator for a social media platform where he is required to view images which may be considered at the very least as ‘inappropriate’; Xanthe – who is highly-anxious and lies; and Cormac – a highly intelligent young man who was referred to Margot by his university lecturer for writing A grade assignments for other students [for a fee of course].

Margot is married and has two children – July who is completing her HSC and Evan who is 13 and a ‘gamer’.  Her husband – Gabe – is the one point of stability in this collection of practitioners of untruths, obfuscations and misinformation.  As Margot says of herself: ‘you get the bad boys out of the way in your teen years, then you find someone kind and caring to marry’ [27].

The novel commences with the ‘Prologue’ describing an incident which occurs one month after the beginning of the novel.  This incident is reprised at the novel’s conclusion so the Prologue gives the reader a glimpse of where the trajectory of the narrative is heading.  The major chapters are separated by occasional media reports relating to incidents within the chapters and by extracts from police statements read into evidence at a trial.  The latter statements do not name anyone so they serve to pique the reader’s interest rather than reduce the tension.

Then a number of incidents occur which are concerning to say the least.  Evan is rejected by his gaming group in a manner only post-Millennials would know how to do; Margot is convinced that she is being followed; and the family’s house [and later her practice] is fire-bombed.  Not prepared to allow the police to deal with the crime and not convinced they are doing all they can, Margot takes matters into her own hands and finds the culprit [or at least the person whom she believes to be the culprit] herself.  But is she correct or has she fallen victim to an elaborate and clever strategy for payback?

As he did so well in In the Clearing where a character is presented in one way and then later is revealed in an entirely different way, the author creates a cast of characters in which at least two are far from what they seem.  The question for the reader is – which two?

Tell Me Lies is not a crime mystery – the reader knows from the Prologue that a crime has been committed and most readers would guess very quickly who is the likely perpetrator.  It is a psychological thriller where the thrill of the chase is towards the truth rather than towards the offender.  JP Pomare – much as did Hippomenes in his race against Atlanta – throws not golden apples but clues and hints in the reader’s path which may or may not be helpful in uncovering the truth.

The sub-text of the novel is families – the importance of them to each of us and what harm they can do when distorted by dysfunction and malice.  Margot will go to any length to ensure the safety of her children and her willingness and her capacity to do so adds an interesting dimension to the novel.

This novel can readily take its place in the genre of psychological thriller and is a worthy successor to Call Me Evie and In the Clearing.  It is an enjoyable and thrilling read.  As a bonus, the book also includes the Prologue and chapter 1 of the author’s next book The Last Guests.

J.P. Pomare is an award-winning writer who has published in journals such as Meanjin and Mascara Literary Review.  His novel Call Me Evie won the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best First Novel.

Tell Me Lies

[2020]

by J.P. Pomare

Hachette

ISBN 978 1 86971 816 9

$24.99; 259pp

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