The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango
At first glance, I thought this author would be female and Spanish/Latin. I hadn’t expected a German and Sascha is, I discovered, the favoured male variant of Sasha there.
This is the first novel by a prizewinning German screenwriter of crime dramas (notably Eva Blond apparently which ran from 2002-6). I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the blurb mentions The Talented Mr Ripley and Herman Koch’s The Dinner and that combo is fairly on the button as it turns out. The hardback cover says ‘Meet Henry Hayden – Famous Author, Loving Husband, Generous Friend, Ruthless Killer.’ It begins thus:
No getting away from it. A quick glance at the image was enough to give shape to the dim suspicions of the past months. The embryo lay curled up like an amphibian, one eye looking straight at him. Was that a leg or a tentacle above the dragon’s tail? (p1)
Henry Hayden is in a very difficult situation. He’s to be a father, but not with his wife Martha; the mother of the tadpole is Betty, his editor, who is sitting next to him in the car. Why Betty? Why not Martha? It’s a real shock!
… then Henry opened the passenger door and threw up in the grass. He saw the lasagne he’d made Martha for lunch. It looked like an embryo compote of flesh-coloured lumps of dough. At the sight of it, he choked and began to cough uncontrollably. (p3)
He chokes again, Betty does the Heimlich and the lingering pasta comes out. He continues to panic. He tells Betty he’ll tell Martha ‘everything’. Big mistake!
It was Betty who had discovered Henry’s first novel Frank Ellis in the slush pile at Moreany Publishing some years ago, earning herself a promotion for finding it, and making Henry a bestselling thriller author, but …
Apart from Henry, only Martha knew that he hadn’t written a single word of the novels himself. (p10)
To say that Henry and Martha have a conventional relationship would be an untruth. They met when Henry had gone home with Martha after a party and discovered the manuscript under her bed, and more rotting in the cellar.
“I’m not interested in literature,” Martha said on the subject. “I just want to write.” (p17)
But she let Henry submit the ms under his name, and thus he is the one who becomes famous. He is the celebrity author on the festival circuit, wearing designer gear and driving an Italian sports car. Martha stays at home and every night, she writes, and writes, and writes.
So, we have a great set-up – Henry is completely stuffed! If he leaves Martha for Betty his literary career will be over; if he doesn’t leave Martha, Betty will tell her, and his literary career will be over.
I’m not going to tell you what happens next, save to say that it was an audacious move and as a result Henry gets himself into ever greater lies worthy of one of Martha’s thrillers to obfuscate and misdirect everyone.
This twisty thriller was great fun – full of black humour that made it more Koch than Highsmith. Also, in loving Martha, Henry lacks the total amorality of Tom Ripley – there’s a little bit of Jeff Lindsey’s Dexter in him perhaps? There’s even something a little bit frantic and ‘Reggie Perrinish’ in Henry which, read in the week David Nobbs passed away, made Henry a more likeable sociopath!
There were some super set pieces including a fight with a marten hiding in the roofspace. There’s a shadowy figure from Henry’s past with a score to settle, Henry’s Serbian fishmonger friend is good value and the police are suitably shambolic in their investigations. The Truth and Other Lies is a real page-turner, and I found myself wanting Henry to get away with it, so he could get himself into more trouble in a sequel? (8/10)
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Source: Publisher – Thank you.
The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango, pub June 2015, Simon & Schuster, hardback, 352 pages.