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Book Review: The Good Liar

By (February 1, 2016) No Comment

The Good Liarthe good liar

by Nicholas Searle

HarperCollins, 2016

Roy, one of the two main characters in Nicholas Searle’s debut The Good Liar, is an eighty-something old charmer and con man. Betty is his eighty-something latest mark, a seemingly sweet old dear whose savings and insurance lure Roy like a porch-light lures a moth. Roy has dabbled in such deceit in one way or another for his entire life, and the urges are undimmed in his eighth decade.

He’s even willing to go so far as living with Betty, in his long-term plan of suborning her minimal defenses and siphoning out of her whatever funds he can get. But, as we’re told, “tolerance has never been his strong suit … Disguise of intolerance, yes, but that’s a very different thing.”

Well, it might be a different thing at the start, but tolerance and disguising tolerance become mighty close to identical when they’re mulched together day after day in a manageable apartment. This is the besetting problem of Searle’s Ripley-in-the-retirement-home bracketing gambit – it repeatedly runs aground on quotidia:

Roy ventures out for a stroll, to get out of the house. Betty has commenced her fussy cleaning routine. The racket of the vacuum cleaner and the disruption of his having to move his feet while trying to sit in peace with the newspaper are usually enough to stir him. She picks up items, sprays, dusts, and tidies away the detritus of his existence, splashes water in invisible places and flushes the lavatory, all the while humming with tunelessness and cheerfulness in equal measure. He cannot bear a repeat of the excruciating mini-lecture on the toilet habits of “little boys” to which she once subjected him. He felt almost sorry for her, she was so embarrassed, poor thing.

Searle goes some way toward counterbalancing the boredom at the heart of his story by pulling back curtain after curtain on Roy’s past, moving his narrative from decade to decade. But it isn’t much of a compensation, mainly because Roy tends to bring his tedium with him wherever – and whenever – he goes. The prose throughout his misadventures is as flat and predictable as a West Texas highway, and both himself and all the other characters (with one exception – readers will spot him instantly and will pine forlornly to see him in a novel of his own, a better one) are so monochrome that you get the strong impression Searle thought that merely presenting an amoral main character was a good day’s work.

The book itself is mighty attractive, a sturdy, deckle-edged thing with an eye-catching US cover designed by Milan Bozic. But at almost $30 for this much cold porridge, it’s a swindle almost on par with the kinds of things Roy keeps dreaming up.