review: Marla Cantrell
By Ruth Ware Simon & Shuster | 384 pages | $25
I can’t help you with your vacation plans, but I can tell you which book to take along. The Lying Game, a psychological thriller by Ruth Ware, is set in the coastal town of Salten, on the cliffs of the English Channel, where four high school friends, now in their thirties, gather for a reunion at their old boarding school.
At least that’s what they want their former classmates and the townspeople to believe. In reality, what brought them back together was a text from Kate, who still lives in Salten, which read, I need you.
The plea came after a bone was found in the channel, which opened a police investigation that began when Kate’s father, Ambrose, disappeared while the girls were still students. When Kate sends the text, Isa, Fatima, and Thea drop everything to rush to her side.
When they arrive, Isa, the narrator, is shocked by the condition of Kate’s house. It is sinking into the sea, the shifting of the building causing electrical hazards and sloping floors. But Kate won’t leave—this is the house where she lived with her father.
As the women reconnect, the story of their teenage years unfolds. Kate and Thea were already students when Fatima and Isa arrived. Kate and Thea had a reputation as liars, playing a game that caused them to make up fantastic stories to see how far they could go, and how many people they could make believe them. The game could be vicious, and there were plenty of casualties.
To bind them together, they pledged never to lie to one another, a tenet that continued when they invited Isa and Fatima into their confidence.
The four spent weekends at Kate’s house. Ambrose was the art instructor at the school. He was loose with rules and was a recovering addict. He was also acutely devoted to his daughter Kate, trying everything in his power to make sure she had the foundation she needed to build a beautiful life.
While the girls swam or sunbathed, Ambrose penned quick sketches of them, an innocent endeavor, but something that caused a stir at the school once the drawings were discovered. Could something untoward have been going on between Kate’s friends and their teacher?
The question was never resolved since Ambrose soon disappeared without a trace. In the aftermath, Isa, Thea, and Fatima returned to their families, and Kate was left to live in that lonely house alone.
Although the girls were separated, the secret they shared about the night Ambrose disappeared bound them together. As a way of coping, they made poor choices, drank too much, engaged in self-harm, and tried to find a path to forgiveness.
When they returned to Salten, they quickly picked up the three concrete rules of their old game. Tell a lie, stick to your story, never get caught. The first two rules were harder to keep now that they were adults. The third rule, though, that one seemed impossible.