She Lies in Wait by Gytha Lodge

I have no doubt that writing a debut novel must be a daunting experience, but I found the dedication to her parents at the beginning quite puzzling. I thought it could be that maybe the author is just self-deprecating or young or nervous, but admitting you wrote “a truly awful first book” did make me pause before I turned the page to being reading the prologue. With the doubt in my mind from the dedication I almost half-expected an “awful” read… but (thankfully) it’s a really good story!

Despite a couple of small continuation errors I spotted, on the whole it’s a well written first thriller, filled with interesting characters, especially her police team who’s backstories make you thoughtful and I for sure will want to read her next book; “Watching from the Dark” published this year (the prologue snippet at the end of “She Lies in Wait” has me hooked already!). I get the sense that Gytha Lodge is an author who will specialise in not so much why people do what they do, but rather why they don’t do what they should have. I find that quite exciting and so I’m looking forward to reading her next Jonah Sheens book, as I very much liked him as a character and want his personality to expand as the series continues. The other members of the police team have me intrigued as well, so all in all the author has captured me hook, line and sinker!

So, this book seemed to have a fairly typical outline – something bad happened to one out of a friendship group 30 years ago and the police have to determine the truth about who’s responsible and what happened through unpicking a network of lies. But, this book has more ‘oomph’ that just the simple, generic plot idea. There is this toxicity that oozes from the pages, and it’s mixed with fierce protection and betrayal that really gets to you as the reader. I ended up feeling lots of emotions towards each character; mostly heart-breaking sympathy or utter disgust. Ultimately, this group of young friends had just planned a fun night camping, so how could it possibly have gone so horribly wrong? Or, was something or someone else to blame?

This story-line is laced with misdirection and I loved it! I was kept entirely on my toes, because each twist and turn sent my thinking in a different direction, which helped the ‘real feel’ of the book, because I can imagine genuine police investigations have to deal with secrets, lies, held-back information, not to mention actual, and faked, blurred memories. I felt the 30 year later cold case aspect linked with the present day very well, as the daunting realisation (and resignation) came across in a strong manner from all characters; not just the suspects, but police team included so they felt authentic (and human!). I’m glad the police characters in this book aren’t ‘acting superheros’ with extraordinary training and powers, but seemingly-average, hard-working, each with their own strengths to bring to the table coppers.

Opportunity became key. It comes down to who possibly could actually have done it, because once all their stories are fitted together, there is one last puzzle piece and it’s a “of course” moment! This story explores truly horrible themes, all of which are habitual among teenagers, but the consequences in this instance will break your heart. Gut-wrenching innocence and naivety from all parties jumbled up with nail-biting suspense kept me turning page-after-page. I have no shame in admitting that a gentle tear or two rolled down my face reading the last chapter (and I am not a crier). The emotion had just built up over the course of the book and I suppose it was the sense of relief and justice that got to me in the end, but the book evoked a response from me, so the author has done her job!

I feel that this book is highly topical because the pressures on young people to conform and fit in are so high these days and I hate it! I feel like I want to scream “stand your ground” at teenagers to make them realise there isn’t any mileage in following the conventional life route, not that it would ever alleviate the pressures they feel from others. Giving in because you don’t think there’s another option or that it might not be as bad as you think is something that I wish more awareness was raised about. There is always another way. You always have a choice. Surrounding yourself with friends who won’t force you to do something you don’t want to do isn’t cowardly or pathetic, it’s creating a safety net of genuine people who care and will be beside you for the entirety of your life, and could keep you from ending up in a situation like in this book. There is no doubt in my mind that the sequence of events in this book could be a true story, having played out similarly at some point, and it makes me so sad.

All-in-all, a fresh and chilling story about friendship that may leave you reaching for a tissue, with a lasting perception of no matter how old and grown up you get, the person inside doesn’t change. Not completely. Some people are just wired with menace and sickening control, and no amount of learning social skills can change their background and fundamental principles. A lot of fault and blame is thrown around, as would be a natural response given the case, but it added to the perplexing nature of the crime because you really couldn’t see a clear perpetrator right until the end. Dark, deep and tough to read in places; this thriller will get you on the edge of your seat wondering who lied. And why? – GJ

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