I won a pre-publication paperback of this book as part of a goodie bag from the Writers’ Centre Norwich last October, along with the James Runcie mystery I’m reviewing next month. There’s a short summary of each in the Clean Sweep Challenge. I’m very grateful to that challenge for getting me to read some cracking books already on my shelf, of which this was just one.
This is a life told back to front.
This is a man who has lied all his life.
Roy is a conman living in a small English town, about to pull off his final con. He is going to meet and woo a beautiful woman and slip away with her life savings. But who is the man behind the con?
What has he had to do to survive a life of lies?
And who has had to pay the price?
This book does something I usually enjoy – it writes backwards. Not mirror writing, but the tale is told in sections that work into the characters’ histories, in this case returning to the present every now and then as you see things getting more complex. If you know Stephen Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along (one of my favourites) you’ll know what I mean. It’s a way, in part, of discovering how things got to this pretty pass, and here, it reveals a surprising twist to Roy’s history, even though we know he’s a conman.
The strength of this book is the way the reader is introduced to the helpless mature lady who Roy is trying to con. She has her own background, revealed more in disjointed comments than in scenes, so that you get the hint, and are left wondering. It’s intriguing and enticing, and I realise I use those two words often when I’m talking about books I really like. The characterisation and the settings, both contemporary London and back through the decades, resonate with the older reader, and the journeys it takes to go further back are all too familiar from other works of fact and fiction. It’s still easy to miss connections between modern and historical scenes, though.
I thought the use of the serpent on the cover was an excellent metaphor both for twisting and for speaking with forked tongues. And it ticked another box in my list of reading challenges for the year!
It turns out to be a very long con. You hope the conner might just get conned – but will he? As we backtrack through the liar’s life we discover lies within lies within opportunistic deceptions. A brilliantly written novel that grabs your attention and takes you, willingly or not, through to the end. I gave it five Goodreads stars, which means I thought it was amazing.