**Please note. What follows is packed with spoilers. Do not continue if you haven’t read the book yet and wish to remain unspoiled!**
Writing Like It’s 1985…
I spent a long time trying to decide what, precisely, I disliked so much about this book. It’s well-written and as far as the locations, well-researched. A quick skim of the reviews on Amazon list the top three complaints as:
- It’s unusually far-fetched, even for a 600 page mystery.
- It focuses too much on whiny, self-obsessed Deborah St. James.
- It provides no satisfying whodunit.
And all that is true. But I can forgive a wild, convoluted plot (heaven knows I sometimes write them) and anytime Deborah appears in a story, I steel myself. Beautiful, redheaded Deborah, forever miserable because she once had an abortion and is now infertile (as we are told in every single book) is one of those shallow, pointless characters who should have been killed off ages ago. As for the early revelation that the death was just an accident, and we’re in for 600 pages without a murderer — well, that’s an artistic choice I can actually respect. Sometimes investigations go nowhere. Mind you, George was taking a chance by doing that to her readers, and I’m not surprised that some weren’t pleased. But surely she ran that risk with eyes wide open.
No, what I so thoroughly disliked about this book is its outdated sensibilities. Believing the Lie might as well be subtitled, “The Truth According to 1985.” In the book, the sympathetic female, Manette, states without irony that women’s ages are reckoned like dog years, and though she’s near Lynley’s age, he can’t be expected to find her attractive. Meanwhile Valerie, a family matriarch, explains that “all talk of sexism aside,” little boys enjoy physical games and little girls prefer to play with miniature appliances while imagining their loving husbands will be home soon. I caught on early that Alatea, the perfect wife of former wastrel Nicholas, was transgender and hiding it from her husband. But even I was surprised when the entire climax hinged on driving Alatea to suicide. Can’t you just see that as a TV movie of the week from 1985? “The searing story of a woman with a terrible secret…”
Then there’s Tim Cresswell. Tim is a sensitive and intelligent fourteen year old boy. We’re told he was perfectly well adjusted until his father announced he was gay and walked out on the family on Tim’s birthday. Naturally, Tim is sent to live full-time with dad and the new lover, because that makes perfect sense, and they live in an unrenovated farm house with old-fashioned keyholes. So of course Tim peeks through a keyhole, watches Dad and new lover going at it, and turns violent and suicidal. This is presented as a logical consequence; as Manette asks, what was such a revelation expected to do to Tim’s burgeoning sexuality? Why, destroy it, of course. Because this is 1985 and gay parenting is still a TV movie-of-the-week notion. Unlike fourteen year old boys in 2012, Tim has never had a gay friend, sneaked a look at gay images on the computer, or sexually experimented with either gender. 1985 offers no family counseling for Tim, just a school for delinquents and unrestricted internet access, allowing him to chat up a pedophile and arrange his own (homosexual) rape and murder. Lucky for him, Manette and her husband swoop in to give Tim a loving, normal home.
Notice I didn’t mention Lynley? He’s barely in it. Barbara Havers? Ditto. She’s still wearing those “red high-topped trainers,” though. Very similar to the hightops Cybill Shepherd wore to accept her Emmy … in 1985.