The Lying Game, by Ruth Ware: Book Review

The premise is extremely familiar: four young friends hide a deadly secret. Years later, that secret is threatening to come out, and someone knows what they did. It’s been done so much that when I heard the plot I wanted to roll my eyes. Had I not read Ruth Ware’s previous book, The Woman in Cabin 10, I might have breezed right by this book without a care in the world. But since I did read Cabin 10, I suspected Ware would do something different with the concept.

I wasn’t wrong, but it’s not that Ware adds twists to the formula so much as that she approaches it from a different direction. Instead of treating the premise like a suspense thriller, Ware slows down. The Lying Game is much more about the four friends, their relationships, and the cost of keeping their secret than it is a whodunit. I admit at first I was confused and kept waiting for the pace to quicken, but once I realized what Ware was doing I began to enjoy the concept. Mystery/thrillers have such a set formula that the genre can become stultifying. When everything is a surprise, nothing is surprising soon enough. Paying attention to character development and emotion is both smart and refreshing.

If only it was pulled off better. In focusing on characters, Ware seems to have forgotten to build much of a mystery. She spends the first half of the book teasing out details of what the secret is (even though it’s already painfully obvious what it is). When she finally does give details, it’s easy to guess where things are going since none of the details make sense. That the characters don’t notice how nothing adds up correctly doesn’t exactly recommend them.

That’s when I started getting irritated with the characters. Ware has drawn interesting, deep portraits of her four central women, but when every move they make is wrong–designed to draw the plot out longer rather than allow a sensible resolution, it becomes difficult to care. Had I put this book down halfway–or even two thirds of the way through–I confess I wouldn’t have cared much about how it all resolved itself in the end.

I am still curious to go back and read Ware’s first book since she is a writer of talent, but feel free to sit out of The Lying Game.

Grade: C+

The Lying Game Ruth Ware

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