Liz Nugent’s barnstorming page turner of a thriller, Lying in Wait, has a blistering opening line;
My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it
From here on, the tension never lets up as we learn that respected judge Andrew Fitzsimmons has murdered the aforementioned Annie and with the help of his wife Lydia, they have buried her in their garden. What follows is not your typical who dunnit – we know that already – but a why dunnit as we find out what has brought these respected members of society to this situation, and wonder will they get away with it?
As Andrew starts to crack under the pressure of his crime, his cool as ice, agoraphobic wife Lydia takes control, determined to protect her beloved son Laurence and her closeted, comfortable life in the family home – Avalon.
The story is told through multiple narrative voices. Lydia, the cold matriarch, her passive, overweight son Laurence who starts to become obsessed with the missing girl and Karen Doyle – Annie’s sister, who is sure Annie did not just run away and will stop at nothing to find answers. Karen and Laurence meet by chance and as their relationship grows and Laurence begins to realise what his parents have done, the novel becomes a chess-like battle of wills between Laurence and his domineering mother.
Lydia is a wonderful character – complex and compelling, both without pity, but still to be pitied. Holed up in her fortress of Avalon, with its beautiful gardens, privacy and fading opulence, she is a woman who is used to getting what she wants. As the family fortune starts to dwindle and her chance to have a second child disappears, her actions set off a domino effect, which will cause havoc for all involved.
Another striking character in the book is the setting itself. Avalon, Lydia’s childhood home is reminiscent of Manderlay in du Maurier’s Rebecca. Lydia idolizes the childhood she has spent there, but Nugent slowly shows how the house itself manifests the pain and turmoil that drive her present day motivations.
Avalon is her prison as much as her refuge and although the setting for the novel is the 1980s, the book takes on a fairy tale quality, with Lydia, the evil queen doing all she can to protect her reputation and keep her son by her side. She is a fabulous villain, over the top and unforgettable but Nugent is clever enough to provide an explanation for her darkness. The gothic undertones create a narrative that demands the suspension of disbelief, as the twists and turns lead the reader to a horrifying ending of dysfunction and warped self-preservation.
Liz Nugent really knows how to ratchet up the tension and the book is well plotted and paced. The influence of Nugent’s work as a script writer for RTE soap Fair City is well in evidence here and a television or film adaptation may be in the not too distant future. In a style reminiscent of Harlan Coben, this is a book to be read in the least number of sittings possible. Once you think you have a handle on where the narrative might be going, Nugent upends everything with twist after twist.
The book also has interesting things to say about female sexuality, motherhood and mental illness and has a rich supporting cast of characters that create a believable landscape for the sometimes unbelievable plot.
Lying in Wait has taken the Irish literary world by storm, winning the RTÉ Radio 1’s The Ryan Tubridy Show Listeners’ Choice Award 2016 at the Irish Book Awards. No doubt do the same in the UK now that is has been chosen as one of Richard and Judy’s Book Club picks. She has just signed a deal with a US publisher and the release of Lying in Wait along with her first novel Unravelling Oliver in the States in 2018 will further cement her reputation.