Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this novel from the publisher, Simon and Schuster, via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
I am new to this NetGalley and ARC business. A newbie, a greenback, a novice. I’ve received perhaps half a dozen ARCs in total, which is not many. Principally this is because I’ve not requested them at times when I am busy because I am trying to be fair to the publishers. But the Summer vacation arrived and I requested a few from NetGalley. And The Lying Room was one.
I was immediately put off by very significant layout and formatting issues: paragraphing was not consistently accurate; capital letter were mainly absent, both at the starts of sentences and proper nouns, and the word “I”. With the caveat that I am not massively experienced, I was surprised by this – even dismayed. It’s the only ARC I’ve received with those sorts of issues. I can only assume that the publishers are on top of this and editing furiously. For the sake of the review, I think I should – to be fair to the author and publisher – assume that those technical issues will be addressed and consider the book on its merits as a narrative.
And as a narrative we are thrust into the minutiae and Neve Connolly’s – neve connolly’s – domestic routine of breakfast, coffee and tea making, children being sent off to school, husbands, dishwashers being packed. It was detailed and a little – no very – pedantic in its detail to the point where it was taking me out of the story. Neve then receives a mysterious text message, heads off to a rendezvous with her boss, Saul Stevenson, with whom she is carrying on an affair, and finds him dead in the living room of his flat. His head smashed in with a hammer.
So what does Neve do? Scream like a gothic damsel? Provide first aid and call an ambulance? Phone 999? No. She tidies. To protect herself from the repercussions of her family she tidies up and washes and cleans and bleaches away that evidence. Really? Really? Methodically, calmly – with the body of her lover in the flat with her – she cleans. Then returns to work. The work at which Saul is her boss.
The remainder of the novel, obviously, depends upon her making that choice but that choice was so fundamentally incredible and ridiculous that it was absurd. It was the decision a psychopath would make: utterly devoid of any empathy. To dismiss it was the effect of shock feels flippant. That narrative decision – bluntly – did not work. But it did alienate me from Neve, my point of view character, for the remainder of the novel. And the clean-up as she describes it is likely to have been futile: it is inconceivable that she could have removed the evidence of her presence from the flat, from the bed, the mattress, the fabric of the sofa, the thousands of random places we touch and never consider. Interestingly and coincidentally, Tana French’s The Trespasser also contains a post-murder clean-up which was much more thorough and professional but still ultimately futile.
From that point, however, we get introduced to a range of characters – and possible murderers – in Neve’s colleagues, her family and her friends. We meet her husband Fletcher, somewhat depressed and somehow stuck in their house; we meet Mabel, their once-suicidal troubled daughter; we meet Gary, Tamsin and Renata, Neve’s friends from University with whom she had made an independent publisher, taken over by Saul’s company. Eventually Detective Inspector Alastair Hitching arrives – once Neve surrenders to the pickles of her conscience and phones in to report the death – and Neve becomes entangled in her attempts to keep her family and friends together, avoid the murderer and avoid being arrested for it.
I was sufficiently interested in the plot and characters that I wanted to see the resolution play out – although I did anticipate the final twist about half way through. Absurdities did continue to abound: Saul’s wife calling on Neve for support, a woman she’d never met before; an bizarre sequence of birthday parties and student reunions which seemed to take us off into (un?)intentional comedy, something a long way from the thriller genre. DI Hitching who may know more than he says, or may not.
French – apparently a husband-and-wife writing team – also had a very pedestrian writing style. In the same way that unnecessary details of who made what sort of tea for whom, or precisely how many minutes the quick wash took in the flat, her sentences seemed a little … monotone? Very subject-verb-object. Compounding rather than subordination. Limited discourse markers – golly I sound like a teacher! But take a look at this example (capital letters corrected by me)
The clock said seven-fifteen.
“Morning,” Neve said again, still cheery. One of her jobs had always been to crank up the day, get them all going.
It was Fletcher entering this time, his hair damp from the shower and his beard newly trimmed. He barely looked at her, staring abstractedly out into the garden instead. She was grateful for that.
“Tea?” he asked.
She didn’t need to answer. She always had tea in the morning. Fletcher always had coffee. It was his job to make them and empty the dishwasher and put out the rubbish. It was her job to get breakfast down the children and make their packed lunches.
She shook oats into a saucepan and added milk and a tiny pinch of salt, put it on the hob to heat. She did it without thinking. Connor had porridge with golden syrup on top every morning. Fletcher had toast and marmalade.
Pedestrian, I’m afraid, is the word. In every aspect.
I gather that French has published a series of novels involving Frieda Klein, a forensic psychologist. I’m not in any rush to read them.