Wednesday, 22 February 2012

David Ellis - In the Company of Liars

In the Company of Liars is a truly original thriller, strikingly fresh and unpredictable. Told in chronological reverse, from its enigmatic end to its brilliant beginning, the novel is centered on a woman who is on trial for murder-Allison Pagone, a mother caught between competing forces, each represented by someone who may not care if the pressure kills her in the end. A prosecutor wants Allison convicted and put on death row. An FBI agent believes she can squeeze her into ratting on her family. A daughter and an ex-husband need to save their own skins. And circling them all: a group who would prefer to eliminate her quietly and anonymously, but who also are not what they seem.

Our first picture of Allison is in the moments following her death. The story then moves backward in time like the cult film Memento: an hour earlier, then the day before, back and back to the beginning, until we can see what's really happened-and, most shocking, what hasn't. At every turn, Allison Pagone knows that what she sees may not be what's real. The only sure thing is her place in a vortex of half-truths, threats, and suspicion. When her nightmare is over, will she awake in the company of friends -or in the company of liars?

If you are like me, you enjoy mysteries that challenge the little grey cells (as Hercule Poirot was so fond of saying). Having heard that David Ellis had written his latest novel in reverse chronological order, I felt like a worthy challenge had arrived.

While many books use flashbacks, this one goes in reverse chronology (and uses flashbacks). So you have to be nimble-minded.

If you are like me, you will continually make assumptions about what's going on that are wrong. One of the pleasures of this book is that the reverse chronology makes for many more plot complications . . . which, for me, kept the story fresher and more unexpected.

So how do you review a book written in reverse chronology . . . very carefully!

I suspect that the most I can do is to describe some of the key characters . . . rather than give you a sense of the plot. You'll just have to unravel the plot on your own. Beware of any reviews that give you plot details . . . they are, by definition, spoilers!

Allison Pagone is a best-selling novelist of detective stories who is also a lawyer who formerly worked as a public defender. She is recently divorced from her ex-husband, Mat, who is a political lobbyist in their state's capitol. They have a daughter, Jessica, who a college student working part-time for another lobbyist, Sam Dillon, who is a friend of Allison's and Mat's.

Since this is a mystery, you have representatives of law and order (deputy investigator Jodie Griggs, detective Joe Czerwonka, special agents Jane McCoy, Owen Harrick and Irv Sheils from the bureau, county attorney Elliot Raycroft and the prosecutor, Roger Ogren) and those who defend the innocent (attorneys Paul Riley and Ron McGaffrey).

Naturally, there are journalists (such as Larry Evans) and various mysterious people outside of the Pagones' lives (such as
Doctor Neil Lomas, a brilliant drug researcher, and Ram Haroon, a suspicious exchange student). These characters spice up the story much more than you would expect.

One of the pleasures of reading the book is that Mr. Ellis does a nice job of both misdirection . . . and giving you clues to overcome the misdirection. So if two things don't make sense together, assume that there are other shoes to drop in the past.

Some will grade this book down because it takes 100 pages or so before you begin to see the beauty of the story. Be patient if you are not thrilled while you first read the book . . . it will get a lot better before you get to the beginning (or the end, if you prefer).

This book will most appeal to those who have enjoyed plays like Sleuth.

I envy you for having this wonderful reading experience ahead of you.

I hope that Mr. Ellis will provide us with another of these gems soon.

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