Arlidge jumps back into the contemporary thriller scene with Liar Liar, a slight change in direction for Detective Inspector Helen Grace, whose private history has made her first few battles with criminals as personally as professionally dangerous. Grace is now a well-established character with a raft of human flaws and an instinct for solving the most complicated cases and depraved criminal behavior, usually at a heavy emotional cost to herself.
Liar Liar opens with three spectacular fires that seem to set all of Southampton, England ablaze, two established businesses and a private Victorian home. As import retailer Thomas Simms attempts to navigate the unusually crowed late-night streets to get to his home after a long day, he suddenly understands the reason for the chaos: his house is on fire, his wife, daughter and son at home. It is a harrowing scene, the family rescued but in critical condition. A man struggling to keep his business afloat and provide for his family, Simms realizes that night that his life will never be the same.
For Detective Inspector Grace, it is only the beginning of an unending nightmare that will threaten Southampton residents and feed the twisted urges of a sick mind.
Such is the fate of those individuals caught up in a reign of terror marked by deadly fire and an uncanny mind on a mission. Arlidge is in fine form on this outing, Liar Liar as propulsively readable as Graceís former forays into crimes and perpetrators. For each set of businesses torched, there is a more personal attack, another family destroyed by an unknown assailant with few clues to suggest why this particular target has been chosen.
Though Helen made peace with reporter Emilia Garanita of the Southampton Evening News after a prior grueling case, their temporary truce is shattered when the wily reporter finds the character assassination of her nemesis too tempting to resist.
For her part, Detective Inspector Grace is fully aware of the shortcomings that, if exposed, can end her law enforcement career.
Yet these personal quirks are exactly what make this particular character so interesting and effective, her perspective on peopleís patterns, intentions and aberrations providing insights not necessarily present in the less troubled. Male figures are less dominant in this thriller, save Helenís new boss, Detective Superintendent Jonathan Gardam, who often seems a bit too interested in Graceís methods and idiosyncrasies. While fully supportive of her decisions, he shadows her every move in this investigation, setting off vague internal alarms that Grace is forced to ignore as fires, threat, and gruesome death escalate in her city. Detective Charlie Brooke, who almost lost her life on duty, returns
with her commitment to the job unmoored by the birth of her baby daughter, but not her friendship with Helen.
Other than the memories that still haunt her and a vague uncertainty about her new boss, Helen Grace is in fine form--as is Arlidge, who has managed to churn out one page-turner after another without losing that forward momentum that produces compelling thrillers. Yeah, itís crime fiction, but told well. Itís tales like Liar Liar that leave us with the most memorable figures as the world of crime and punishment explores the dark side of humanity.