Expected publication: 16 June 2017
Devoting herself to her family has always been the most important thing to Judi. When her son Ben’s wife Louise dies from cancer, she is only too happy to take over the reins and look after her two young grandsons Josh and Noah whenever required, as well as help with Ben’s household chores. Every Sunday, her “boys” gather around Judi’s table to eat the sumptuous feast she cooks for them. This is all Judi has ever wanted – to spoil her loved ones and to feel needed. But life is about to change when Ben falls head over heels in love with Amber, a pretty young childcare worker whose presence is like a thorn in Judi’s side. Not only has Amber installed herself in Ben’s household, but she is also usurping Judi’s rightful place in the family. Sunday gatherings are no longer the carefree affairs Judi has treasured for so long, and she is dismayed to find that her help with the children and the chores is required less and less. Worst of all, Judi has her suspicions that Amber may have an ulterior motive, but both Ben and her husband Henry think she is being paranoid and jealous of the young woman. How can she get her rightful place back in the Jukes household?
The theme that inspired the author, the interesting dynamics of the daughter-in-law / mother-in-law relationship, and the potential to turn this into a riveting mystery saw me requesting this book as soon as it appeared on Netgalley, and I was overjoyed when it was approved. Slater makes it clear right from the outset that in this family, things may not be as they seem on the surface. Judi, the loving grandmother, who is also a bit of a control freak. And Amber ... well, we know very early on that Amber has her own agenda. As tension between the two women grows, I could not help turn the pages, interested to see how this doomed relationship would play out.
My biggest disappointment with the story was that the author gave away too much too early for my liking. I have said it before, and I will say it again, I am fussy with what I call a “psychological thriller”. For me, to qualify for the term, a story must mess with my mind, play me like a yo-yo. I want shades of grey, not obvious black-and-white. I love an unreliable narrator, or one whose motives are so well disguised that I am in a constant dilemma as to whether I can trust them or not. I want the author to manipulate me, make me question all my preconceived ideas, vacillate between doubt and belief and generally addle my brain to an extent where the book stays in my thoughts even when I am not reading it. Unfortunately in this case – and this is not a spoiler, as it is revealed very early on – we know pretty much from the start that Amber has an ulterior motive when she engineers her meeting with Ben, to make him fall in love with her. There is never any doubt that she is a scheming little minx with her very own agenda. The only mystery here is her reasons for this, which, to be honest, was not quite enough for me.
How much better this would have worked had I (as the reader) been able to give her the benefit of doubt, to constantly question myself whether she was innocent or guilty of deceit and whether Judi’s hate and suspicions were justified or not. As it was, I felt forced to root for Judi, who I equally disliked, but with Amber cast as the villain I couldn’t very well stand and cheer in her corner, could I? So, whilst the family dynamics kept me turning the pages, there was no mystery and no suspense, except for a few surprises along the way, which did not make up for the mental manipulation I had hoped for. Looking back, I realise that this was my main gripe with Slater’s previous book, Blink. Seeing that it worked well for other readers, I am conceding that perhaps her writing style just isn’t for me.
In summary, Liar was a fast and somewhat predictable read with moderately interesting family dynamics that kept me turning the pages but didn’t quite capture my imagination enough to make it memorable.
Thank you to Netgalley and Bookouture for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.