Ruth Ware became an instant best-selling author when her debut crime novel In a Dark, Dark Wood came out in 2015. Since then, she has also published The Woman in Cabin 10, and the film rights to her first novel have been acquired by Reese Witherspoon. Ware’s latest novel The Lying Game came out this summer, and I was lucky to have been sent a review copy by Harvill Secker while I was away in England.
The Lying Game starts with Isa, a new mom to baby Freya, who leaves her settled and middle-class life in London as soon as she gets a text messsage saying ‘I need you’. The text comes from Kate, one of Isa’s best friend from her times at Salten’s Boarding School for Girls, and whom she has not seen in more than fifteen years. But why did Isa drop everything? And why does Kate need her? Upon her arrival, Isa finds that Kate has also requested the help of Fatima and Thea, and with the four of them together again, they will face some of their darkest times.
Ware’s new novel moves between the past and the present, exploring the friendship that ties , these four women: ‘The lying game’, a self-made game by which they were rewarded points for lying to others – but never to each other. As far as domestic noir, or contemporary crime novels go, this storyline is nothing new, and it very much reminded me of other novels that focus on a group of friends who share a dark secret, such as C.L Taylor’s The Lie. Ware’s novel is predictable, and the supposed mystery of the novel – Someone is lying, but who? – does not make it a page-turner, as it can be easily guessed, motives and all.
The real attractive of The Lying Game lies on Salten, a seaside smalltown that is also home to a boarding school for privileged girls. As students, the four main characters are aware of their position, and Isa’s first person narrative shows her privilege (there is even a veiled critique of the NHS for dicharging patients early in the morning), and her innability to relate to the town’s people, who by the way cannot speak properly, in a case very similar to the dialectal transcriptions in Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. But Salten is much more than that: It is an atmospheric setting reminiscent of Conan Doyle’s moors in The Hound of the Baskerville. The sea is an unsettling presence, with sea tides flooding the access to Kate’s house, and eventually destroying it in a very ‘House of Usher’ way, which shows that Ware knows perfectly well the tradition her books belong to.
The Lying Game is my least favourite of Ware’s books until now, although I have to admit that I devoured it during a week spent at the beach. It is a page-turner, and although Isa is petulant and paranoid about her daughter, other characters in the novel are very interesting. I was specially interested in Thea, who with her use of drugs, her anorexia, an her high heels will remind many readers of 1990’s heroin chic icon Kate Moss. If only for her, and for the atmospheric landscape, The Lying Game is a quick, and easy summer reading, or a cosy autumn read to help going back to the routine.
Ruth Ware is the best selling author of In a Dark, Dark Wood (2015), and The Woman in Cabin 10 (2016). Her works are known for mixing up more traditional crime fiction elements with innovative domestic noir features. She currently lives in North London with her partner and their two children.