Lying Next to Me
Note: This novel contains an explicit depiction of child abduction and rape. Reader discretion is advised.
Gregg Olsen is an expert at writing thrillers that engage the reader and keep them jumping through narrative hoops with its characters. Lying Next To Me starts with an abduction and takes us much, much further, deep into the psyches of its imperfect main characters, leaving the reader to wonder who’s good, who’s right and who’s in charge.
We open at the scene of a disaster. Adam Warner has just witnessed the kidnapping of his wife, Sophie, from the deck of their summer cabin. The event is startling as it is nightmarish – a man punches Sophie out cold and carried her off while Adam is on the lake with his daughter trying to trap crabs for dinner. As he holds three-year-old Aubrey in his arms and surveys the damage, Adam can only wonder why he couldn’t act quickly enough, and why his beloved wife has become the victim of such a vicious crime.
The family had been on Memorial Day vacation at Washington’s Hood Canal, an attempt at relaxing and reconnecting with one another, Adam’s obsession with getting ahead at work and Sophie’s desire for more than a humdrum job doing graphic design work for Starbucks having pulled them in different directions over the previous few years.
Detective Lee Husemann, whom Adam knows intimately, and her dryly sarcastic partner Zach Montrose have their suspicions about what might have really happened to Sophie. The last thing Lee wants to do is point the finger of blame at her old friend, but Adam’s increasingly obvious thirst for revenge has her doubting her ability to trust his version of events.
Lawyer Kristen Moss and her alcoholic husband Connor are on vacation near the Warner family and claim to know nothing about Sophie’s disappearance. Connor’s alcoholism isn’t just socially embarrassing to Kristen, it’s responsible for a personal tragedy in their lives in the form of a car accident that left his cousin with brain damage. It also resulted in a felony being affixed to Connor’s permanent record, which means he’s stuck doing menial jobs. Lately one of those jobs is impregnating his wife – Kristen wants a baby, but so far has not conceived, a rare failure in a life filled with successes.
As we peek into the lives of Kristen, Connor and Adam, a chain of events connecting the Mosses and the Warners begins to appear. And Lee – still dealing with leftover baggage from being kidnapped by a serial rapist as a child – must try to keep her head above water in order to untangle the clues flying at her thick and fast.
Lying Next to Me is a deep, dark story, filled with unreliable narrators and unexpected, biting bits of grim humor. The network of characters – from Adam’s blowhard nightmare of a father-in-law to his desperate boss – are unique and distinct. Almost every single one of them is indelibly paranoid in some manner, ready and willing to lie, manipulate and backstab to come out on top. Even our heroine, Lee, is so afraid to make personal connections that she spends nights at home with her cat, drinking herself asleep to deal with her flashbacks. But there was only one character I couldn’t buy, and that was treacley little Aubrey, who feels neither realistically three-years-old nor realistically childlike.
The mystery is very good, and important clues that require a keen eye for detail are sprinkled about in surprising places with unpredictable importance. Twists and turns slalom the reader’s sympathy and sense of trust back and forth between protagonists until they’re dizzy; the end result is shocking but enticing.
Olsen does a pretty decent job covering the effects of rape upon a child and the self-recrimination and pain that comes with such trauma. This may be triggering for some readers, so caution is advised.
There were two big fat flies in the ointment of the book’s delicious cocktail of suspense and crime: no way would Lee be allowed to stay on the case once she arrives at the scene of the crime and sees Adam. While one of their connections is extremely private and intimate, there is another, much more public reason that would likely result in her being removed from the case in the real world.
The second is the book’s denouement, which had some nice moments but contained a few details that didn’t work and smelled of loose ends needing to be tied up. And when Our True Criminal finally gets a chance to speechify they violate one of Roger Ebert’s most infamous laws.
To tell you which one would spoil the surprise of getting there. Lying Next To Me is a solidly wicked, addictive thriller that will keep you guessing.