‘It was a wet day, one of those grey, drizzly London afternoons when the sky and the pavement and the rain-streaked buildings converge…’
The moment Paul Morris steps into that bookshop on Charing Cross Road is a catalyst for everything that is to come.
Self-obsessed, misogynistic and a pathological liar, Paul had some success with his debut novel, published in his twenties. Now forty, he’s written nothing worth reading and has nothing worth having. Living rent-free in an apartment he’s housesitting, he ekes out an existence with his dubious charisma and seamless lies, wiling away his days finding ways to boost his sense of self-worth at the detriment of others, and sleazily hitting on women twenty years his junior.
Who should step into the same bookshop on that fateful day but Andrew, an ex-classmate from their heady Cambridge days. When Andrew invites Paul over for dinner the following week, Paul begrudgingly accepts.
It is there he meets the charming widowed Alice, mother of teenagers, and a do-gooder human rights lawyer who always champions the underdog.
Every year, the two families make a trip to Pyros, Greece. You can see the lure: it’s far cry from the rain-soaked skies and granite streets of London.
Out of an almost psychopathic selfishness, Paul strategically begins a relationship with Alice – a relationship built on a string of lies, untruths that trip off his tongue with disarming ease. He is invited to spend two weeks with the families in Pyros.
But this paradisiacal offering quickly turns into a claustrophobic, oppressive nightmare, in a place haunted by the ghosts of the past and the horrors of the present.
Durrant is a master of tension. The narrative builds at a deliciously steady pace, the slow amalgamation of lies and untruths, the suffocating heat, the endless noise, the paranoia and fear – building up and up to a level where the tension is almost unbearable.
It is unsettling, menacing – not least because of the detestable nature of the protagonist, the lens through which the reader experiences the novel. The use of the small snippets into the present day narrative were masterful, setting up the denouement in a very clever way.
My only criticism would be that the ending was too quick, it seemed too easily concluded and I would have liked to explore character motivations and involvement to a greater degree.
Executed with precision, elegance and taut prose, Lie With Me is a solid addition to psychological thriller genre.