Author: Catherine Ryan Howard
Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Fiction
Publication Date: February 27, 2018
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (4 stars)
Will Hurley was an attractive, charming, and impressive student at Dublin’s elite St. John’s College — and Ireland’s most prolific serial killer. Having stalked his five young victims, he drowned them in the muddy waters of the Grand Canal. Sentenced to life imprisonment when he was just nineteen, Will is locked away in the city’s Central Psychiatric Hospital.
Freshman Alison Smith moved to the Big Smoke to enroll in St. John’s and soon fell hard for Will Hurley. Her world bloomed . . . and then imploded when Liz, her best friend, became the latest victim of the Canal Killer — and the Canal Killer turned out to be the boy who’d been sleeping in her bed. Alison fled to the Netherlands and, in ten years, has never once looked back.
When a young woman’s body is found in the Grand Canal, Garda detectives visit Will to see if he can assist them in solving what looks like a copycat killing. Instead, Will tells them he has something new to confess — but there’s only one person he’s prepared to confess it to.
The last thing Alison wants is to be pulled back into the past she’s worked so hard to leave behind. Reluctantly, she returns to the city she hasn’t set foot in for more than a decade to face the man who murdered the woman she was supposed to become.
Only to discover that, until now, Will has left out the worst part of all . . .
The truth was, I’d never stopped loving Will. I’d just accepted that the Will I’d known and loved was dead. Ten years later, I was still trying to come to terms with the fact that he’d never really existed in the first place.
Let me start out by saying, this is not a fast-paced, twisty thriller – but it doesn’t masquerade as one. Instead, we’re treated to a story about love, loss, and moving on, along with a side order of slow burning suspense and intrigue. I loved it.
The blurb was what drew me in. I was fascinated by the concept of a young Ali being forced to reconcile what is supposed to be the purity of her first love with the knowledge of the evil he’s responsible for. How traumatic would it be to process that, bury it, and then have it all surface again ten years later, when she’s finally found a new normal?
The split timeline narrative thrilled me. It’s a perfect fit for this story since it quickly becomes clear that Ali never truly moved on, too wracked by shame and guilt. Part of her has always been trapped in the past, and as much as Will’s summoning terrifies her, it also opens the door for the closure she’d stopped believing was possible. Catherine Ryan Howard is so wonderfully deliberate with her diction, and she paints a vivid picture of Alison, then: a bright-eyed, untouchable college freshman with the world as her canvas, contrasted against Alison, now: hesitant to trust or forgive anyone, including herself.
I was equally enamored by both storylines and the relationships within them. It’s so easy to feel the butterflies of young love as we unpack the beginning of Ali and Will’s relationship, and I was fascinated by their reunion in the present and how much weight it holds for both of them. But just as intriguing is Ali’s nuanced friendship with Liz in the past and budding trust in Malone in the present. The characters and their dynamics are easily the strongest part of the novel, and Howard excels in breathing life into them.
My only real complaint has to do with the execution of the ending. Too much felt jammed into the last fifth of the book, especially after the unhurried, character-focused nature of the beginning. When the dust settles, the pacing tries to again even out, but to me, it falls short and the characters’ conclusions seem rushed and inconsequential next to the attempted big bang of a climax.
Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed The Liar’s Girl and Ali’s search for the truth. Beautifully descriptive prose and realistic characters color the story the whole way through, and even with my opinions of the ending, I walked away satisfied and hungry for more of Howard’s writing. 4 stars!
The Liar’s Girl is out next week! Thank you to Blackstone Publishing and NetGalley for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.