Everyone loves a con artist right? From ‘The Sting’ to ‘Oceans 11’, fiction has taught us that they are suave, cool, clever and, essentially, good guys standing up to The Man. This is helped by their choice of target, the theory in Will Ferguson’s wonderful ‘Spanish Fly’ is that ‘you can’t con an honest man’. Basically, everyone is out for what they can get and the con artist plays on this greed; you can’t trap someone who wasn’t already trying to beat the system.
Real life is not like the movies though, and scammers play on vulnerability and fear far more than on greed or stupidity. ‘The Good Liar’, which opens when the aged Roy Courtnay prepares for another blind date, is perfectly happy to disregard the glamour for the sordid details of the trade. Take the dapper Courtney for example, he relishes the sadistic potential of his arranged meeting, at which his gambit ‘One of the things I dislike intensely … is dishonesty’ will allow him to point out all an inadequate companion’s poorly disguised flaws and illusions. It’s hard to imagine how any woman could fall for what superficial charm he can produce, and when he meets the attractive and intelligent Betty you can only hope the blurb was right when it implied he’s not the only one with a secret agenda.
In fact, nothing is as it seems in this tangled web of lies and Searle takes great joy in playing with chronology so facts and contradictory ‘truths’ are only slowly revealed. Much of this is classic thriller territory, as we learn about characters’ history in order to understand the games they now play. Roy can ‘pass for seventy, sixty at a pinch‘ and Betty is pretty much his contemporary, so there is plenty of space for mystery in their pasts.
During the last couple of weeks, I’ve reviewed Kang’s ‘Human Acts’ (massacre and torture in Korea, based on real events), Kadare’s ‘Twilight of the Eastern Gods’ (repression in 1950s Russia, based on real events) and Rankine’s ‘Citizen’ (contemporary racism in the Western world). In contrast, ‘The Good Liar’ has been an enjoyably escapist read. An interesting addition to the canon of con-artist fiction, the book puts its own entertaining spin on a familiar story. Recommended if you want a shiny new thriller to start off 2016.
I received my copy of ‘The Good Liar’ from the publisher via Netgalley, in exchange for an honest review.