In French's latest standalone novel, Neve Connolly finds her life standing over her like "a dark wall." She worries about daughter Mabel at university, the well-being of her two young sons, Connor and Rory, and her lack of passion for her husband, Fletcher. As The Lying Room opens, Neve seems to be putting it all at risk. She likes her life with her children and Fletcher, but she didn't think life would be so hard. One evening a few months ago, Neve had thought: "I can't go on like this, I've had enough."
These are disquieting circumstances. She considers herself blameless, but she doesn't hesitate to fall into an affair with her co-worker Saul. Soon enough, Neve's ignoring her work at the "allotment" and spending her mornings cycling into town through London Fields. It feels like she's giving off an electric charge, "sparks that would jab and sting anybody near her." She knows that she could blow the life she and her family have painstakingly constructed over the years into "glinting, jagged pieces."
After Neve discovers that Saul has been murdered, she descends into a fever dream of a woman in her forties grown weary of the slog of family life. There in Saul's dark flat, Neve must now attend to business. Lying is the same thing as committing the murder, though Neve never really reaches a conclusion about that. Instead, she decides to remove every single trace of herself. Saul is dead, but her daughter is still alive, and she has to hold onto that. Deleting the text messages, taking the perfume the book, the bike lights, the tee-shirt and tights--Neve is already thinking like a criminal, creeping around the house like a thief.
French plunges us into Neve's stream-of-consciousness, panicked thoughts. She thinks of her kids and the allotment that really does need tending. She's sure she will never sleep again. The following morning, she wakes up with a lurch of horror, as if she's been drowning and is now lunging to the surface to gulp mouthfuls of air. Neve is colored from the start by the possibility that she'll get caught, especially after Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching turns up at the office. Neve's unease grows; ghosts seem to be everywhere. Certainly her colleagues Renata, Gary and Tamsin would vouch for her, but Hitching seems ever-present, even turning up unannounced at Neve's home. Neve pushes away the fears and tries to concentrate on her daughter, who was always so tight with anxiety and rage it seemed she might splinter into a thousand pieces.
As Neve tries to find Saul's killer, her lies are compounded by even more lies. She ends up stupefied with all the deceit and all the fear. Neve thinks of her daughter's pinched, chalky face and the day stretches ahead of her, ugly and full of ambushes. Other things plague Neve's psyche: her lost bangle, the hammer, her personnel folder and the creepy way Detective Hitching looks at her. The motif of London's streets perfectly illustrates Neve's fragmented mind as she pictures Saul's demolished room and Mabel's sour and terrified face.
There have been times when Neve thought she would go mad with grief and anxiety. She confesses that her affair with Saul had been like "a gulp of fresh water." After the plans, lies and betrayals, the sleepless nights and the countless moments of terror, Neve must solve the ultimate mystery and find a measure of justice for Saul.