Source: Review copy
Publication: Available now in e-book and out on 23rd August in hardback from Wildfire
Can you tell the truth from the lies?
Sadie loves her daughter and will do anything to keep her safe.
She can’t tell her why they had to leave home so quickly – or why Robin’s father won’t be coming with them to London.
She can’t tell her why she hates being back in her dead mother’s house, with its ivy-covered walls and its poisonous memories.
And she can’t tell her the truth about the school Robin’s set to start at – a school that doesn’t welcome newcomers.
Sadie just wants to get their lives back on track.
But even lies with the best intentions can have deadly consequences…
Meet Sadie Roper, a woman who has so many secrets; a woman who doesn’t want to talk about the past. She has recently moved back to London from Brooklyn with her pre-teenage daughter Robin, leaving Robin’s father, her husband Andrew, behind.
She’s come back to the house she lived in as a child. Her mother is now dead but Sadie has always hated the house. Unhappy memories seep from every corner. But we see that Sadie has no choice if she is to afford to live here and to send Robin to school.
We don’t know why Sadie had such a terrible childhood; nor do we know why she has fled her marital home and travelled across the Atlantic to come back to a house she hates. But we do know that it has to be serious.
She only has one friend left here, and it is through those conversations that we learn a little of the reason Sadie left. Sadie enrols Robin in her own alma mater; finding to her surprise that there is a late vacancy and thanking her lucky stars that she had put Robin’s name down some time ago as a just in case measure.
But on the very first day she hits her first stumbling block. For the school gates are metaphorically guarded by a group of rather formidable women and their first sight of Sadie is not one that leaves them with a favourable impression. Tyce describes these women so well. Instantly unlikeable; territorial, competitive and remarkably snooty. Sadie feels at once out of place in the face of these coiffed, designer clad mums who clearly are not taken with the somewhat flustered and slightly rumpled Sadie.
And as Tyce makes deliciously clear, if the mummy’s face doesn’t fit, then the child is not going to enjoy an easy life. Tyce writes these women with something that feels like acidic glee – it’s almost as if she knows these women and is taking her revenge, for these are not likeable characters.
At the same time, though, it is quite difficult to get a grip on Sadie’s own character; there is so much that is hidden that we don’t know whether she is a reliable narrator. What is clear though is that she would do anything to protect Robin.
Keen to earn money and to have something of a life of her own, Sadie manages to use an old connection to find some legal work as a junior barrister on a high profile case of child abuse and grooming. Tyce excels when writing about the law. Her knowledge and experience, not just of the law and the jury system, but of the rampant sexism, bullying and snobbery that exists in the courtroom and behind the scenes in Chambers shines through and makes for a highly entertaining and enjoyable read.
The case itself is a real tension builder and it doesn’t take long before the reader is immersed in the trial, wanting to understand what is going on; needing to know the rights and wrongs, rooting for Sadie to find the key that would unlock the mystery of their client’s guilt or innocence.
Meanwhile, after many false starts, Sadie is slowly being accepted into the mothers’ circle, but that acceptance comes at a hidden price that Sadie has no idea she will have to pay….
As the pace speeds up in the second half of the book, so the tension ramps up exponentially. The legal case, which has taken centre stage, falls into the background as the school story surges back to the foreground with a vengeance.
Tyce has created interlocking stories, each having some bearing on the other, either through reflected themes or having a causal relationship, but this isn’t always obvious as you read and this can make the novel seem disjointed at times. I’d have liked to have seen some elements more fully explored – Sadie’s own childhood and relationship with her mother if gone into a little more could have made her a slightly more rounded and sympathetic character. The relationship with the school mothers changed almost too rapidly for comfort and her relationship split with Andrew felt somewhat glibly tied up.
Verdict: The Lies You Told is an engrossing, dark and addictive read with moments of real tension and some cracking scenes. Harriet Tyce is a writer who can write really well about injustices and her legal background makes those scenes crackle as her clearly held passionate views come across on the page. The various plot strands could have stood a little more integration though and I found that the ending, while as tense and twisty as I’d like, still felt rushed.
Harriet Tyce was born and grew up in Edinburgh. She did a degree in English Literature at Oxford University before a law conversion course at City University, following which she was a criminal barrister for nearly ten years.Having escaped law and early motherhood, she started writing, and completed the MA in Creative Writing – Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia. Blood Orange was her first novel, and The Lies You Told is published this month. She lives in north London with her husband and children, and two rather demanding pets, a cat and a dog.