Friday, February 23, 2018

Review of Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent (Penguin, 2016)

Judge Andrew Fitzsimmons and his wife Lydia live in a mansion on a large plot of land in south Dublin with their son, Laurence. It should be an idyllic life but their accountant has mis-invested their savings. To add to their woes they have sought to solve one aspect of their domestic life by taking a risk with a young troubled woman who has turned the tables on them. In a fit of rage the judge strangles the woman, but it is Lydia who finishes her off. They decide to bury the body in an old pond turned flower bed and hope that the police do not connect them to the missing woman. Laurence has an inkling as to what has happened, but his manipulative mother steers him into silent complicity. The police make little effort to find out what happened to Annie and the case is soon shelved. Karen, the dead woman’s sister, is determined however to discover the truth. When the dead woman’s father intersects with Laurence’s life he sees a way to atone for his parent’s sins, but in so doing he places the family secret and all his mother holds dear in jeopardy.

Lying in Wait is an extended family drama and psychological crime tale, plotting the intersections of the well-to-do Fitzsimmons and the working-class O’Tooles. At the heart of the tale is the obsessive, manipulative, sociopath Lydia Fitzsimmons, who cares only about herself, her family home, her son, Laurence, and having more children. The latter brings the family into contact with Annie Doyle, a victim of a Mother and Baby home and heroin addict. A showdown with the young woman leads to her death, with Lydia determined to cover up the murder. Nugent tells the story from the perspective of Lydia, Laurence and Karen, the dead woman's sister, with each chapter switching to another perspective. In this sense, the book is very much character-driven, plotting the unfolding lives and dramas of the lead protagonists, held together by the murder of Annie and Lydia’s determination to keep a secret, Laurence’s desire for atonement, and Karen’s quest to know what happened and justice. Nugent focuses on the intricacies of their lives, thoughts and interactions avoiding melodrama or shifting the register into thriller territory. The result a kind of realistic ordinariness, despite the tragedy at the centre of the tale. At one level, this is what makes the book work, but at another it flattens the storytelling in the sense there is no sense of urgency or pace or tension. The result was a nicely constructed and told tale, which was excellent on its own terms, but one I was never felt absorbed by.

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