So I’ve just finished reading The Good Liar by Nichloas Searle and it ain’t no lie (huh, huh???) to say that it’s pretty alright. The Good Liar is the first book I’ve read for this blog since getting a new job so I digested it (comparatively to the other books I’ve reviewed) rather slowly. Reading a chapter here and there on lunch breaks probably did the book a lot of favours, as looking back, if I’d read it all in one day, I doubt it would have left much of an impact. But as I consumed it, The Good Liar was a sufficiently intriguing and compelling read. Even if there are some caveats.
The Good Liar follows an old conman called Roy Courtenay who’s out to do one last con before he retires. He meets a woman, Betty, on a dating site and then organises a date. The two hit it off and begin a relationship. But Roy only has eyes for her money. So why is Betty making it so easy for him to get it?
The Good Liar has two narrative strands – the first is in the present day where Roy is planning his last con, and the second is in a backwards past where we see Roy’s life before his current conquest, and learn how he became such a bastard. In the present narrative, we also see things from Betty’s point of view as things become a little more than they first seem.
The main issue with The Good Liar is that it’s way too predictable. You can easily guess the thrust of the narrative from the blurb alone, and it’s an age old story – the conman getting conned. Betty is not what she first seems (because of course she’s not) and Roy’s plan is not as secure as he would like to think (because of course it’s not). If the story acknowledged this at the start, it would have been fine but it’s not totally upfront with it, placing the reader ahead of the narrative for much of the novel. If it had owned what it was at the start, I feel it would have been better off.
Of course, ‘why’ is still a mystery, and The Good Liar keeps it’s box of secrets well. And it was definitely compelling to try and puzzle out what was happening. In Roy’s past, we see, theoretically at least, what happens to make him such a dirtbag. But I felt that Roy, as a character, was pretty much fully formed from the start. It’s hard to go into it without spoilers but Roy doesn’t really have an arc…at all. He was always a dirtbag. He is still a dirtbag. There isn’t much to find out, which makes the past chapters a little dull. He cons people – that’s pretty much the sum of all of it. Eventually things hot up as Roy’s origins are revealed, but still it feels a little slow and flat because there’s nothing changing.
Of course, Roy is a horrible person. And as the novel goes along, he only gets worse. So our protagonist turns out to be our antagonist. And our ‘antagonist’ (to Roy) being Betty, turns out to be our protagonist I guess… It’s just a weirdly shifting story where we don’t really get enough of a grip on any of the characters. I guess what I mean is that it feels rather thin.
I don’t think The Good Liar is as clever as it thinks it is. As most of the books I’ve reviewed in 2016, I compare it to The Burning Air by Erin Kelly, a novel that has similar themes of revenge and anger over generations. That novel felt so rich – there was so much content in it, so much story. The Good Liar by comparison feels too light, too obvious. Even the title, The Good Liar, is a bit bland and bleugh.
Saying all that though, I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy The Good Liar. The mystery kept me intrigued enough to see it through to the end, and every lunch break I was, at the very least, compelled to see what was going on with Roy and Betty. If anything, when things ramp up towards the end, it seems to lose some of it’s charm. But still, The Good Liar was a competent and interesting novel.
The Good Liar is a good lunch break read over a few weeks. You don’t have to think about it too much and you don’t have to retain much information. But The Good Liar never manages to elevate itself much beyond that. It’s rather too obvious and rather too plain – even when it attempts to shock. The tale of a conman being conned is just that… and that’s fine I guess, as long as you don’t expect anything better than that.
THE GOOD LIAR by NICHOLAS SEARLE