Review: “Liar Liar,” M.J. Arlidge

Pros: Excellent plotting and interesting characters
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

In M.J. Arlidge’s Liar Liar (A Helen Grace Thriller), three buildings across Southampton are set ablaze in one night–one residential home, and two commercial properties. Luke survived by jumping out of his window and breaking his legs. Luke’s father Thomas was away from the house at the time, but unfortunately his wife and daughter were home–and Luke couldn’t get to them before taking his own fall. Helen Grace is in charge of the investigation. She puts DC Charlie Brooks on Simms–Charlie has a daughter herself as well as a good dose of empathy, so she might be able to learn from the Simms family as she helps them cope with their losses. The police are sure that something personal is going on with the attack on Thomas’s family, but the other two fires are muddying the picture.

As for Helen, she has a very private need in her life for someone to dominate her physically. It’s the only thing that distracts her from everything going on in her life. She has had to find a new dominator, but there’s something not entirely right about Max.

The next night three more fires spring up–again, one family and two commercial properties. The police believe the non-family fires are meant to tie up resources in order to make sure the family targets die. There are some things the police have to look through, such as Thomas Simms’s mounting debt, but these fires seem personal. Helen also has a new boss, Gardam, and their personalities fail to mesh in some awkward ways. Before long, suspicion falls on a firefighter, Richard Ford, in a way that could mess up Helen’s career.


Speaking of Luke: Young people with leg injuries are always sports stars looking for a scholarship or sports career. Why couldn’t it be a dancer or a swimmer for once? Or anything other than a school athlete? I’d think severely breaking both legs would screw up any number of potential futures and careers without having to add in the trite high school athlete detail.

Southampton’s chief fire officer, Adam Latham, does a hatchet job on Helen in the news once she sets her sights on one of his people. I want to see more about how that will affect her. We don’t really get into that in this novel. Since it’s a series, however, that’s probably the right choice to make. That way it can be part of the slow building of tension in the next book, without slowing down the ending of this one.

Helen’s new boss, Gardam, wants Helen to spend more time in the office coordinating things, while she feels the need to be out on the front lines with her fellow police. Gardam also seems to be awfully nosy regarding Helen, to a disconcerting degree. I’m sure we’ll see more of that in future.

The characterizations were fantastic. The fire chief screwing over the detective who screwed over an innocent man on his squad rings true, and could have repercussions for some time to come. I like that it’s accepted that police officers don’t all have to be completely stoic when the people in their cases die (especially children). This is particularly apparent in the case of DC Charlie Brooks, who is so devastated by portions of this case that she hits a point where she has to decide whether to continue working for the police at all.

The pacing of this thriller is excellent. At three major fires per night, the police have very little time to work with, and that makes the book on the whole feel taut and nerve-wracking.

Between the characters, pacing, and story, Liar Liar is a great arson/murder thriller. At some point I’ll have to look at more of this author’s work!


Book provided free by publisher for review
Expected publication date: June 7, 2016

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