The least Agatha Christie-ish of Ruth Ware’s books, The Lying Game is an entertaining psychological thriller about the secrets from the past coming back to haunt us. The Lying Game isn’t quite as tense as In A Dark, Dark Wood, nor as gripping as The Woman in Cabin 10; rather it touches on a more subtle emotional tension. It all begins with a text message, stating simply “I need you,” that brings together old friends Isa, Kate, Thea and Fatima back to the town of Salten, where they all attended boarding school almost 20 years ago.
I’m a sucker for boarding school stories, and I love the strong bond between the characters even after so many years apart, which reminds me a lot of the friendships I formed back in high school. The title comes from a game the girls played in school, where they gave each other points for making people outside their circle believe the most outrageous lies. It’s a silly game that backfires, and when the girls are expelled in their final year of school, the reputation they’ve built through the game comes back to haunt them.
The reason behind the expulsion is teased throughout the story, as are the circumstances behind the mysterious death of Kate’s father, who also happens to be the school’s art teacher. Something the women did while they were in school is now under threat of being exposed, and puts the lives they’ve since built at risk. There are a lot of Ware’s signature twists and turns. I found that the big reveal wasn’t as hard to figure out as in her previous novels, but it was still a fun ride.
I also liked a lot of the characters, and seeing how whatever happened in school impacted all of them. Group leader Thea turned to alcohol for comfort, and her vibrancy as a teen turned into an almost bitter desperation in adulthood. Fatima became a doctor and started a family, but as Thea rightly points out, there’s a rigidity to Fatima’s perspective now, a loss of the innocent fun she had as a girl. Kate was the only one in the group to remain in Salten after the expulsion, and her decision to stay in a town where everyone knew and gossiped about her history reveals the depth of her story far beyond what even her friends know.
My big frustration was with the main character Isa. First, she has a super sweet and supportive husband in Owen. He is curious and interested without being pushy and I often wanted to give Isa a stern talking-to and demand she just tell him the truth already. Even if she can’t reveal her friends’ secret, she could at least give him some innocuous details about her visit to Salten without being super defensive every time he brings up the subject. At one point, she receives flowers from Kate’s brother, and when Owen asks who they were from, Isa clams up and gets angry, when it would have been so simple to just say the truth: that Kate’s brother was apologizing for something he did over the weekend.
Worse, Isa constantly puts herself and her baby in danger, and not just because she is forced by circumstances, but because she makes illogical decisions. For example, in one scene, she is with her baby about to take a train out of Salten when she learns something major and potentially dangerous. Instead of taking the train back to safety and regrouping from there, she decides to go stay in Salten and confront the very source of the potential danger. It’s like those characters in horror movies who see a scary house and decide to enter and everyone watching is screaming at them to leave, except in this case, the character has already escaped the house and left the neighbourhood and is deciding to go back. It makes sense for the story, because it eventually led to the big climax, but it was a seriously stupid decision, especially since she had her baby with her.
Overall, it was a fun read, and I look forward to Ware’s next book.
Thank you to Simon Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.