George Foss never thought he’d see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack’s Tavern. When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl’s grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece – the one who had committed suicide – was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved – and of the things she may have done to escape her past. Now, twenty years later, she’s back, and she’s telling George that he’s the only one who can help her…
Following the pre-publication hype, I was more than intrigued to read this new debut crime thriller from Peter Swanson. Opening with a very familiar conceit of a figure from the main character’s past reappearing, up to their eyeballs in trouble, and thus propelling innocent main character into mild peril, there are some very obvious comparisons with the stalwarts of the genre. Having ticked these boxes, I embarked on this trying to keep an open mind on the entrance to this particular sub-genre of crime by Swanson, but in actuality was reminded incredibly strongly of both Harlan Coben’s Six Years, and the amalgamation of the complete Linwood Barclay back catalogue. So how did Swanson measure up to the ‘big boys’?
The plot is constructed across two timelines, with the reader seeing George Foss as a formerly impressionable college student, caught up in the throes of young love with fellow student Liana, and an affair that has serious implications for George several years later. Believing that Liana has committed suicide during their college years, eventually discovering that their whole relationship and her account of her life is totally comprised of lies, he is utterly surprised by her reappearance in his life, and the troubles she trails in her wake. The reader is then taken on a path of discovery with our hapless hero George, as the real Liana is gradually revealed, and how the ensuing years following their first interaction has led her on a life based on deception, theft and murder in which George becomes inextricably tangled.
Despite the enthusiasm of other reviewers for this book, I must confess that I was a little underwhelmed generally by this book. The plot was engaging enough, and written with a pace that led to this being a relatively quick read, but perhaps with the influence of other writers in this genre looming so large, I didn’t feel that the plot was anything new no matter how well constructed. The twists were just a tad obvious I felt, and the conclusion a little cliched for me, but entertaining enough when looking at the book as a whole. George was a perfectly affable and quite ordinary character overall, not imbued with many heroic qualities, but your empathy was drawn on as his involvement in Liana’s double and triple lives sucked him into danger, but really you were just thinking just leave well alone- that girl is trouble with a capital T! Stepping out of the shadow of the aforementioned Coben and Barclay was never going to be an easy task, but Swanson has given a good shot in this debut, but maybe just a little pedestrian for my taste I’m sorry to say.
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(With thanks to Faber & Faber for the ARC)