The Good Liar
Nicholas Searle
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Buy *The Good Liar* by Nicholas Searleonline

The Good Liar
Nicholas Searle
352 pages
February 2016
rated 4 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Click here to read reviewer Luan Gaines' take on The Good Liar.

The central protagonist of Searle’s novel is a nasty character. At times sharply observant and at other times careless and coldly homicidal, financial scam artist and con man Roy Courtney both charms and creeps, especially octogenarian Betty whom he has recently met online and is attempting to date. For Roy, it's mostly “kismet.” After a lifetime of screwing people over, Roy sees “the dating lark” as something different. Betty comes to represent yet another “feisty old bird,” a frumpy woman out to assuage the bitterness of her long-unfulfilled marriage. For her part, however, Betty is calm and realistic, retaining a certain radiance and resilience. Steadily deteriorating Roy is not so sure. He sees his machinations as an escape as he fixes on Betty before attempting to “dismantle her forensically.” From the obvious topics of conversation to this last act of deception, Roy promises Betty that it’s the last time he will lie to her.

Telling his story with a quickness of pace and clarity, Searle’s exposé on human deviance twists and turns as we move back through Roy’s past life. The author takes us into some dark places, mining the cracks that exist beneath Roy’s cultivated and polished surface: the violence, envy, greed, and cruelty reaching far back to Nazi Germany, attributes that go along way to explaining the path that Roy has taken. No longer fifteen or fifty, or even eighty, ostensibly charming Roy moves with Betty to a cathedral city about a hundred miles west of London. Soon bored with the tranquility of domestic, middle-class life, Roy rabidly pursues his agenda. With the help of Vincent, his longtime partner in crime, Roy plots to set up a joint account with Betty, all the while coming across as “the sad old man,” harmlessly passing his days looking out on the world.

While Roy attempts to pulls off unbelievable acts of evil with the finesse and skill of a master jeweler, Betty appears like a fairy godmother and ministering angel. A retired academic, perhaps Betty knows more about Roy than she’s initially letting on. There’s a loud cross in her heart; she knows she must endure Roy at all costs. She must also do everything she can to accept Roy’s idleness and his less-than-salubrious habits for the sake of the satisfaction and security that she craves. She tells Stephen, her well-meaning grandson, that he must disguise his feelings of animosity toward this man who sooner or later will need to be firmly dealt with.

Alternating between Roy and Betty’s present-day lives to Roy’s past in 1999 and the early 1970s, when Roy attempts to start business revolving around illegal drugs and porn, to 1963 Norfolk, where Roy adopts the name of Bob Mannion only to go on the lam to London; to Berlin in 1946, when he’s shipped off to Vienna to deal with transport dockets for the British occupying force; and onto 1938, when a teenage Roy realizes the potential of Nazi intrigue and their surreptitious interventions, Searle portrays a man with zero compassion or concern for anyone other than himself and his own desires.

Plunging us deep into Roy’s calculating mind, Searle allows us to view the machinations of a selfish, narcissistic man who feeds off cruelty but who has perhaps met his match in Lili Schroder. Lili is initially at life’s end when she’s captured by the Nazis and placed in one of their death camps. It is Lily--ever the survivor--who senses something of hatred in men, and she never forgets the image of Hans Taub, blond and blue-eyed, vicious and demonic.

A glaringly evil character study that ends up more shaded than the best of Patricia Highsmith, Searle inserts a shocking blend of polished intelligence and selfish justification. We become privy to Roy’s internal ruminations as he tries once again to stay one step ahead, changing his identity every chance he can get. Searle’s gorgeous prose compels us to revel in the darker side of his constantly scheming character. Like Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, Roy’s need for self-preservation is the key in this darkly ironic story about the inescapable nature of fate and the inexpressible need for vengeance.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Michael Leonard, 2016

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