The retrieval of a human bone by a dog out of an estuary known as the Reach, in the coastal village of Salten, is the catalyst which begins British author Ruth Ware’s (The Woman in Cabin 10) third novel. The atmospheric, effective, and taut, “The Lying Game” centers on four friends: Fatima, Isa, Kate, and Thea. The four women were inseparable in their youth, while attending the Salten House Boarding School. The narrator of Ware’s novel is Isa Wilde. She is a civil-service lawyer, wife, and a mother to her new born, daughter, Freya; she lives with her family in London. Isa receives a short and to the point text message from Kate Atagon, that reads “I need you.” Isa, doesn’t need to think about what the message refers to; she knows exactly what it pertains to.
Isa doesn’t waste much time before making up a reason to her husband, Owen, why she needs to go to Salten, where Kate still lives. Kate resides in her father, Ambrose Atagon’s house, where her brother, Luc also used to live. Ambrose was a talented, well-liked, art teacher at Salten House before his mysterious disappearance, almost two-decades prior. In fact, after Ambrose disappeared, the four friends were expelled from Salten House. Kate’s residence is referred to in the novel as the ‘Tide Mill,’ a structure which is gradually sinking into the sea. Isa takes Freya with her, and leaves by train for the village of Salten. Throughout the course of the same day, Fatima and Thea, having also received similar text messages, arrive at the Tide Mill.
Fatima is a mother, has become a practicing Muslim in the intervening years between school and the present, and is also a physician. Thea is a career woman, who secretly engages in self-harm, and then does what she can to mask her actions. Unfortunately, for the four friends, this is not going to be the type of reunion where they can just sit back, relax, and talk about everything that has taken place since they last saw one another. No, what it is, is an opportunity for them to get their collective stories straight. The four friends have been harboring a secret since their days at Salten House, seventeen years earlier, and it looks as if that secret is about to be revealed. If, and more than likely, when, the friends are questioned by the authorities, they want to be able to present a united front in their recollections of long ago.
The novel moves back and forth seamlessly between the girls’ years at Salten House, and their current lives. The different parts are clearly delineated by Ware, and shouldn’t present a problem to the reader, as to what is taking place, and when. During their time at Salten House, the girls used to play a game called ‘The Lying Game,’ the five rules of which were:
- Tell a lie.
- Stick to your story.
- Don’t get caught.
- Never lie to each other.
- Know when to stop lying
Ware lets the reader know in a slow reveal style, that the secret that the four women share has something to do with their ill-advised, teenage game. After learning about the bone being retrieved from the water by the dog, as well as other occurrences, Isa becomes suspicious. She starts to think that one of her group of intimates is not being entirely truthful with all that they know regarding what happened in the past; and perhaps re-started ‘the lying game’ due to the current peril the four friends find themselves in. Who is lying? Why are they lying? What will happen when the truth is revealed? Those questions will be answered by the conclusion of Ware’s novel.
“The Lying Game” is 384 pages in length, and was published by Gallery / Scout Press on July 25, 2017. Ware has crafted a well-written, character driven story, that concerns itself more with the friends’ relationships, and the lengths they will go to keep their shared secret, as opposed to solving a mystery. There is a slow building tension throughout the novel; those looking for a traditional thriller, will be disappointed. There are, however, enough twists and turns, that should be appreciated by the reader prior to the novel’s jarring climax.