The Good Liar is a brilliantly written novel, reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith’s infamous Tom Ripleyd but with even darker roots--a Grimm’s fairy tale of sorts. The drama begins with the arranged meeting of two elderly people: Roy, a con man on the scent of his next prey;
and Betty, a lonely widow who has answered his newspaper advertisement. Their first encounter goes well, Roy happy with his selection, ready for the next phase of his plan
to fleece yet another unsuspecting woman to further enrich his coffers. Though brutally judgmental in his observations, Roy wisely keeps those opinions to himself, having fine-tuned the appropriate behavior of an older man seeking female companionship. Before parting, the couple discusses another encounter. Betty
is then driven home by her grandson, Stephen, who has been waiting outside the pub.
Before long, Roy is ensconced in Betty’s cottage, the two establishing the rituals of cohabitation and maintaining mutual respect. He is content to stare out the window or read his paper as Betty vacuums and cleans around him, her requirements for a tidy house far exceeding her new companion’s habits. What could be a source of contention seems to bother Betty not a whit as she smilingly picks up after Roy. Though Stephen has cautioned his grandmother not to move too quickly in this new relationship, Betty appears quite comfortable, even with Roy’s growing list of idiosyncrasies. If Betty has an agenda, she hides it well, patient and tolerant of her new friend’s myriad character flaws.
Betty’s reasons for welcoming Roy into her home remain obscure, but Roy’s intentions are never in question.
His true character is defined in chapters that address his personal history, emphasizing the most significant events and decisions in his long life. Layer after layer is stripped away, the evolution of a man who trusts no one and takes advantage of the guileless, leaving each encounter without a backward glance. His is, historically speaking, a full and eventful journey, eventually delivering Roy Courtnay to the English pub and an introduction to the still vital Betty McLeish, an accomplished woman in her own right. Each is in the waning years of life, both still spirited and alert, the novel unwinding over near a century.
Like an addict, Roy is driven to pursue one last coup, craving the sensation of success, one more spin of the wheel, one final triumph over mediocrity before he gives in to the physical demands of an aging body. In the chameleon/roué role of the cultured, sophisticated gentleman, Searle meticulously constructs his protagonist as a sly deceiver, facile with excuses, charming when necessary, cruel and threatening when confronted with obstacles.
Whether a sociopath or narcissist is irrelevant, the thrill is in the chase, the subtle web of subterfuge. This is literary suspense at its finest, building slowly to a shocking denouement and the finale of an astonishing cat-and-mouse game. The Good Liar is an unexpected treat, an irresistible tale of suspense destined for inclusion with other such classic novels that explore the darkest chambers of the human heart on a collision course with fate.