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Monday 7 September 2020

‘The Lies You Told’ by Harriet Tyce

Published by Wildfire,
20 August 2020.
ISBN: 978-1-4722-5278-4 (HB)

The Lies You Told is a much-looked-for second novel from Harriet Tyce, the author of Blood Orange, and offers a feast of mystery to the lover of psychological thrillers.

The story is told in the present tense and opens with Sadie relocating back to her English home with her daughter Robin. The home is the one Sadie used to live in with her mother, now dead, and it has stood empty for a long time. It brings unpleasant memories which haunt, in a non-supernatural way, the first part of the novel. Robin has to start a new school – the school Sadie attended, also with bad memories ­– in Year Six. The school is very posh, and no one makes Robin welcome; in fact, while the teachers are OK, the other girls and their mothers are horrible in the extreme, and Sadie suffers from bullying and intimidation as much as Robin. Robin’s father has been left behind in America, and Sadie isn’t forthcoming with the reader or her best friend Zora as to why: but it was bad. It’s an effective hook as we want to find out more.

Sadie is offered a job back at her old legal chambers thanks to Zora. She finds herself working with a former colleague on a case where a teacher, Jeremy, is accused of having sex with his pupil, Freya. Sadie is working for the defence and her job is to dig up any dirt on Freya and establish whether she’s lied in the past about relationships, and discover if there is any communication between her and her young teacher which might substantiate her claims. Freya is older than Robin, and it’s a different school, but even so the case makes Sadie uncomfortable, although Jeremy is the picture of innocence and Freya…isn’t.  Sadie is constantly struggling to fit in her legal work with the school run and caring for her daughter who at first is traumatised, even while she tries her best to settle in and reassure her mother. It adds to her stress.

Adding to the reader’s stress are standalone chapters which we take to be from Sadie’s point of view and are set during a distressing time when it seems Robin has gone missing and Sadie, all alone, is frantically searching for her. The chapters take place over a weekend and come headed with the day and the time, and this adds to the tension, as the reader waits for the narrative to catch up with these disturbing chapters.

The writing style is very direct, and the dialogue in particular is crisp and realistic. The novel is pacey, with short chapters and shortish sentences helping to keep the pages turning. The story invites the reader to feel sympathy and compassion for besieged Sadie and we certainly do, and the dual plotlines of home life and legal case contribute to a novel that’s hard to put down, even while I could have hoped for a stronger connection between the two.

The jeopardy that lies in wait for Robin comes a long way in, as you’d expect, and forms the climax of the novel. I’m not entirely sure the standalone chapters add anything to the drama of those events, but they do signal to the reader that something bad – even worse than the abuse Robin and Sadie are handed out by revolting classmates and parents – is going to happen and that Robin will disappear, perhaps in an abduction. Knowing this much in advance will have differing appeal to different readers. Whether or not this device spices up the thrills for you or dilutes them, The Lies You Told is exciting and involving, and has a good twist at the end that readers will enjoy.

Reviewer: Dea Parkin

Harriet Tyce grew up in Edinburgh and studied English at Oxford University before doing a law conversion course at City University. She practised as a criminal barrister in London for nearly a decade, and recently completed an MA in Creative Writing - Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia.

 is an editor with her consultancy Fiction Feedback and is also Secretary of the Crime Writers’ Association. She writes poetry and occasionally re-engages with The Novel. When she isn't editing, managing or writing she is usually to be found on the tennis court – or following the international tour at home on TV. Usually with several books on the go, she entertains a penchant for crime fiction, history, and novels with a mystical edge. She is engaged in a continual struggle to find space for bookshelves and time for her friends and her cat.

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