Book review: Beautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown

Every good story deserves a good twist'¦ and here's one that packs more jaw-dropping surprises than the world's biggest rollercoaster ride.
Beautiful Liars by Isabel AshdownBeautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown
Beautiful Liars by Isabel Ashdown

Since her debut novel, Glasshopper, was published to much acclaim in 2009, Isabel Ashdown has been on a winning run – not least with last year’s addictive bestseller Little Sister – and her new dark, tension-packed psychological thriller reinforces a career that is gaining both attention and momentum.

Beautiful Liars, a gripping, page-turning exploration of friendship, memories, secrets and lies, blends crime, mystery and meticulous character development into an enthralling story which grabs like a vice from the chilling opener to the final stunning series of revelations.

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Written with Ashdown’s superb attention to plot detail, narrative fluency and her gift for creating characters with breathtaking plausibility, Beautiful Liars features a small screen celebrity caught up – both personally and perilously – in her own ‘cold case’ TV investigation.

Martha Benn, the girl who grew up in the East End of London, sometimes can’t believe that she is now the ‘queen of the primetime talk show,’ a polished, glossy-haired, media savvy celebrity who has finally ‘come good.’

Her latest television role is hosting a possible series of programmes investigating ‘cold cases’ and Martha and her team need to make sure the pilot is a ‘showstopper’ to secure a run with the TV network.

And Martha has the perfect opener… 18 years ago, the 17-year-old Martha said goodbye to her best friend Juliet Sherman on a moonlit London towpath after they had helped out at a homeless charity. The next morning Juliet’s bike was found abandoned at the waterside. She was never seen again.

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That same day, the charity’s manager and local landscape gardener, David Crown, also disappeared along with some of his personal belongings, including his passport, a suitcase and he and his wife’s life savings of £50,000.

The police concluded that Juliet had run away with Crown and the search was eventually scaled down but Martha was never convinced that Juliet, one of life’s rule followers, would have walked out without a word to anybody.

Juliet’s father now has terminal cancer and desperately wants to find out what happened to his daughter before he dies and Martha, who has secrets in her own past, is determined to unearth the truth even if it means the investigation could be ‘the catalyst to her own unmasking.’

Beautiful Liars is a fascinating, edge-of-the-seat thriller, a totally immersive tale that peers into the darkest corners of families and friendships with a forensic eye and a keen intuition for the way that the past can be distorted by both memory and wishful thinking.

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The interplay between the disparate narrative voices, the series of hidden clues buried deep within this riveting mystery, and the tangled webs of lies and secrets that constantly bubble just below the surface make this a fast-paced and compelling read full of menace and suspense.

With both artistry and guile, Ashdown manages to tease and taunt us until the very last page as she fires off a volley of devastating and explosive plot twists that leave us shaken, stirred… and longing for more.

(Trapeze, paperback, £8.99)