Book review: Lying in Wait

LIZ NUGENT’s second novel opens with a shockingly provocative line: ‘My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.’ 

Liz Nugent

Penguin Ireland €16.99.

The speaker is the reclusive Lydia Fitzsimons; her husband, Andrew, is a respected Dublin judge. We quickly learn that Lydia, unable to have more children after the birth of her son Laurence, persuaded a reluctant Andrew to father a child with Annie. 

When Annie — a troubled teenager with addiction issues — first lies to Andrew about being pregnant, and then tries to blackmail him, the tragedy of the novel’s first line ensues.

It’s an intriguing set-up, but Nugent, who employed multiple narrative voices in her award-winning debut Unravelling Oliver, again deploys conflicting perspectives in Lying in Wait. 

We hear from Laurence Fitzsimons, an overweight and bullied teen who becomes obsessed with the missing Annie Doyle, particularly when he realises that his father is lying about his whereabouts on the night Annie Doyle disappeared. 

Meanwhile, Karen Doyle, Annie’s younger sister, refuses to believe that Annie would simply run away.

Determined though she is to get to the truth of Annie’s disappearance, there is very little Karen can do when the Garda detectives investigating the case wash their hands of the trouble-making Annie.

The interwoven strands of Lydia, Laurence, and Karen’s stories set all three on a collision course in this absorbing psychological thriller. 

Set in the 1980s, it’s more of a ‘whydunnit’ than a ‘whodunnit’, as Nugent, having initially established Lydia Fitzsimons as a pitiless sociopath, reveals the reasons why Lydia became a controlling, lethal monster.

Unravelling Oliver was a brave novel in the way it gradually allowed for an understanding of why and how Oliver became a vicious domestic abuser. 

Similarly, Lying in Wait delves deep into the childhood of Lydia Fitzsimons to explore the extent to which she is a victim of circumstance, and how her young mind was poisoned by events over which she had no control.

Indeed, one of the most striking ‘characters’ in the novel isn’t a person but Avalon, the stately mansion in south Co Dublin that formed such an integral part of Lydia’s childhood, a house with much in common with Daphne du Maurier’s Manderley from the novel Rebecca. 

A brooding presence at the heart of the story, Avalon represents an idealised childhood for Lydia, but it also hides secrets of Lydia at her worst, a bricks-and-mortar manifestation of her malevolent personality that in turn exerts a malign gravity on Lydia’s motivations.

Throughout the novel Lydia presides over her ramshackle, gloomy palace like some deranged wicked queen from an old fairytale, the gothic iconography emphasising the ever-darker twists of the tale as she plots and schemes against what appears to be an inevitable meeting of minds between her son Laurence and Annie Doyle’s sister Karen.

Lying in Wait may be set in the 1980s, but it’s a story that feels rooted in a form hundreds of years old, and has all the elements of a precautionary fable found in the classic folktales of Charles Perrault et al.

Liz Nugent’s winning of the Best Crime category at the Irish Book Awards for her debut novel was an impressive achievement, but Lying in Wait is an even more assured affair than Unravelling Oliver. 

A complex plot rich in subtext allows Nugent to explore female sexuality, the roots of childhood psychosis, and the unacknowledged but very real layers of class distinction in Ireland, all of it wrapped up in an emotionally nuanced tale of betrayal, murder, and unbearable loss.

It’s a novel that propels Liz Nugent to the first rank of Irish crime writing; where she goes from here will take us all on a very interesting journey.

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