What is this about?: Alison is brought back home to Ireland when another woman is discovered in the Grand Canal, casting doubt on the conviction of Will, her university boyfriend and by all accounts the Canal Killer. He’s been in jail for 10 years and now wants Alison to help him get out.
What else is this about?: It’s about facing your past, and learning not to run any more most of all. Alison is a young woman who lived life but becomes a cautious older woman who won’t live her life. She’d rather run.
Her first love confessed to five murders. But the truth was so much worse.
Dublin’s notorious Canal Killer, Will Hurley, is ten years into his life sentence when the body of a young woman is fished out of the Grand Canal. Though detectives suspect they are dealing with a copycat, they turn to Will for help. He claims he has the information the police need, but will only give it to one person – the girl he was dating when he committed his horrific crimes.
Alison Smith has spent the last decade abroad, putting her shattered life in Ireland far behind her. But when she gets a request from Dublin imploring her to help prevent another senseless murder, she is pulled back to face the past – and the man – she’s worked so hard to forget.
When The Liar’s Girl opens, we are immediately thrust into Alison’s story when a murdered young woman is found and Will Hurley, still in prison, decides he will help the police on one condition – he’ll only talk to Alison.
Alison, in the 10 years since Will went to prison, fled to Amsterdam where she’s built a life for herself, one where no-one knows she once loved a murderer or how stupid she was for loving him and not seeing that he killed five women. That’s the thing about Alison – she’s fled Ireland, but not the guilt that came with once loving Will and even trying to defend him – especially when he confessed to the murders, including the murder of her best friend, Liz.
When two Gardai arrive asking her for help, she tries to resist, but knows the thought of murdered girls has her agreeing. Soon, a short stay becomes longer as she finds herself being followed by someone, and then stalked by the paparazzi still obsessed by her.
To know why Alison stays, we have to know the past
For this story to work, readers need to know what happened in the past, and I understood that but I dreaded it too, because dual timelines like this are so hit and miss.
Mercifully Howard’s writing is crisp and efficient, giving readers only what we need to know of that time. She takes us back to Liz and Alison, and the excitement of getting into college, as much as Alison is beginning to realise that Liz is perhaps not the best friend she thought she was. We follow Alison as she meets Will, falls in love and finds her relationship with Liz fracturing and can’t quite be sure of the reason.
Dual timelines are always a risk, I think. The story of the past needs to give context to the present, and sometimes the past just goes on for far longer than it should, slowing down your narrative entirely. Where Howard succeeds tremendously is keeping the growing tension in the past simmering so you begin to wonder what happened to Liz and Alison, while waiting for Will to murder Liz.
In the present though, Howard differentiates the story entirely as it becomes apparent Will might actually not be the killer – but the book leaves you questioning that too thanks to Howard’s writing and plotting.
Is Will messing with Alison and the Gardai?
Does he have a partner on the outside working to get him out?
So many questions need to be answered, and that’s what Alison is intent on doing. She’s propelled by the guilt she feels in causing the Gardai to turn their attention to him in the first place.
Alison and Will are far removed from the lovers they once were, and their interactions in jail always made me feel like there was an explosion waiting to happen. Howard makes it clear Will is a manipulator, and Alison too mired in grief and guilt to see that entirely.
This is a complex story, filled with nuanced writing and characterisation that comes together elegantly by the end and resets everything you thought you knew about The Liar’s Girl. Seriously a spectacular read.