"Lies" by T.M. Logan
When I graduated high school and set off to college, I did so with one goal in mind — to become a teacher.
Partly because teaching was the only profession that I had spent much time observing— albeit through the relatively unobservent eyes of a student — and partly because I knew I wanted to read and write and get paid for it, I settled on this job and entered college with my major in place.
I, unlike many, never changed my major - I am way too change avoidant to choose a different destination while already chugging down the highway.
No, I graduated with a teaching degree and, for a time, taught middle school English.
This is not to say that I didn't have any concerns about teaching as a profession.
Sure I did.
Who wouldn't when electing to enter an occupation known for miserably low pay and a notoriously high workload.
But, of the concerns I had, one of them was never the prestige of the job.
I knew teaching wasn't prestigious.
And I didn't care.
On this, the protagonist of this London-based thriller and I agree.
Fortunately, however, this is where the similarity between myself and our leading man Joe end — Because, in this novel, Joe has a pretty fucking shitty go of it.
As the novel opens, Joe is driving his young son, William, home from school. Like most adults at the end of a long day — especially most teachers who have dealt with more than their fair share of shit — he’s largely oblivious to the world around him.
Unfortunately, as it would turn out, his son isn’t so oblivious. As William is engaging in one of his preferred pastimes — watching the vehicles jet by in the stream of busy London traffic — he spots his mom’s car. Excited about a certificate he got at school, he convinces his dad to follow his mom into a parking garage and surprise her.
And his decision to relent to his sons demands is one that will change Joe’s life forever.
When he gets into the parking garage, he finds that his wife, Mel, has already left the safety of the garage and, presumably, went into the hotel to which the garage is attached.
This is pretty much the point at which most adults would be saying, “Mkay… this doesn’t look good… Normal adults don’t meet people at hotels for non-nefarious purposes… We are gonna go ahead and abort this mission.”
But that’s not what Joe does. Instead, he takes his son with him into the hotel lobby. When he arrives, he finds his wife, Mel, arguing with Ben, a family friend and the husband of one of Mel’s best friends from college.
At this point, Joe kinda comes to his senses and does what he should have done before — takes his son and tries to get the hell out of there.
So Joe goes back down to the parking garage and straps his son safely in his car seat — a process that any parent knows can be an arduous one.
But instead of driving away, Joe decides to sit and wait.
With William distracted by a round of Angry Birds on the iPad, Joe watches. Before long, he sees his wife comes back into the garage, looking upset. Then, moments later, the elevator opens again, and he sees Ben emerge.
Thoroughly confused, he goes to Ben and tries to ask him what was going on. The response he gets is both aggressive and cryptic and, what was supposed to be a simple inquiry, quickly escalates into a conflict.
Unfortunately, it’s not a very evenly matched fight and, when the much larger Joe tries to push the smaller Ben away, Ben falls and hits his head.
As Joe’s luck would have it — because this does seem to be a relatively epically unlikely day — William has snuck out of the car. Seeing his Dad in this conflict has, understandably, upset the anxious little guy and, worse yet, triggered an asthma attack.
Suddenly finding himself without an inhaler and with a child who desperately needs one, Joe reluctantly flees the parking garage, leaving Ben still unconscious on the pavement.
To assuage his guilt, he promises himself that, after he has Wills sorted, he’ll go back. But, when he does return, he finds that Ben is gone.
When he asks Mel about the encounter later that evening, she lies.
To make matters worse for poor old Joe, he quickly finds that not only has he not seen Ben since their encounter in the parking garage, neither has anyone else. And, as the last person to see him — and because their meeting wasn’t so friendly — he’s in the police’s crosshairs as the prime — and only — suspect.
So this simple event — this last minute decision to do a surprise on Mommy — turns Joe’s life completely upside down. His wife, who he has always trusted implicitly, has proven that she can’t be trusted, and his world rocked.
The only person he knows he can trust is himself, and what he knows he needs to find is the truth.
With short chapters and clean prose, this T.M. Logan debut was an easy read. And the inclusion of a mini-cliffhanger at the conclusion of almost every chapter made it difficult to put down.
Another thing that propelled me through this rather-thick-for-a-thriller book: the promise of a twist.
From the moment I started this book, I was looking forward to an unexpected plot turn. I mean, it had been promised right on the cover, with a teaser line penned by the prolific Lee Child that read, “Compelling and hypotonic…with a twist I guarantee you won’t see coming.”
So, IMO, putting a guarantee like that right on the front of the fucking book is a bit of a risk. When I see such a fervent statement in which a respected individual says, with no equivocation, that I absolutely won’t figure something out, I tend to take it as a bit of a personal challenge. Because I had been challenged, I did spend a large part of my reading time in my thinking chair, assembling a map of clues in my head and trying to divine the ending.
Despite this effort, I must admit that I wasn’t successful in figuring it all out before I reached the end.
As promised — and to my delight — the twist did comes as a surprise to me.
So, perfect pacing + perfect cliffhangers + perfect twist = perfect book, right?
Meh, not quite.
Unfortunately, I had a bit of an issue with the main character that persisted for the majority of the book.
Because this was a character-driven thriller — one in which you had one main character, fighting not just for his liberty but, perhaps, even for his life — a lot of how successful it was or wasn't hinged on whether you cared about said character. And... Here's the problem... I'm not sure I did.
To me, Joe just seemed like too much of a lovesick puppy. He was too willing to initially accept things — things that, mind you, were clearly utter bullshit. He spent too long believing what his caught-in-not-just-a-lie-but-instead-in-many-lies wife told him.
In fairness, though, this could be a bit of a preference thing. I do tend towards the less emotionally available — the more brooding. I do have a predilection for the Mr. Darcy, really. Those guys who, on the exterior, are wholly unaffectionate but, on the inside, are a bubbling spring of complex emotions.
Sorry... Got distracted there.
The second issue I had with this novel was also character related: I felt like something more was going to happen with the son, William, and it just never did.
Specifically, I felt as if the author was setting William up as a character who had autism and I felt like, at some point in time, that was going to be revealed and come in to play — perhaps even somehow being part of the twist.
Here’s the thing, the author never said William had autism, but he did make a point of mentioning a whole lot of behaviors that, when appearing together, could indicate the presence of this condition.
My noticing of them, really, is probably an occupational hazard. As a former teacher I think I’m predisposed to looking for signs. And, because I noticed them, I assumed that there must have been a purpose.
After all, why describe, in such detail, how Wills likes to play airport parking garage, lining up his cars by color again and again? Why tell us about his “I don’t want peas on my plate” mini-fit? Why include the scene in which he saw a man smoking and — because he knew smoking killed you — he expected him to fall down, dead, right that very moment?
Because these things didn’t drive the plot in any meaningful way, I assumed there must have been some purpose.
But there wasn’t.
And now, having finished the book and seeing that nothing came of these “red flags” I felt like I was so smartly spotting, I presume that they weren’t deliberately included to indicate anything but were, instead, just an attempt to fatten up this character.
Ultimately, Lies was an engaging thriller with a surprising ending. Though some issues with characters contained in the novel did hinder my enjoyment — slightly — readers looking for a clean and tidy thriller will likely find that this debut fits the bill.
It gets a satisfying 3 out of 5 cocktails.
Sometimes, when a character annoys me, I just can’t put my finger on why. They just become a nails-on-a-chalkboard figure that can really damage my feelings about a particular book. Have you ever encountered a literary character that just rubbed you the wrong way? Tell me about it in the comments, below.