Little Liar

Written by Lisa Ballantyne — Here’s an author who has already made waves with her work. Lisa Ballantyne’s debut The Guilty One was nominated for an Edgar Award in 2014 and has since been translated into nearly 30 languages, while her second book, Redemption Road, also hit the bestsellers’ list.

Little Liar is another standalone and it hits hard – literally – from the very first page. In the playground of a Croydon secondary school, two lower school girls are having a no-holds-barred fight, egged on by their fellow pupils. Angela has the upper hand over Jasmine, and as the pair are finally pulled apart by members of staff, she is gleefully clutching a handful of her opponent’s hair. It’s the final straw for the head teacher, who suspends the 12-year-old for bullying behaviour and violence towards Jasmine.

The fight, and her nonchalant reaction to it, are the first signs that something’s amiss with young Angela. This is no run-of-the-mill pre-teen. She’s overweight, stroppy (with her mother at least) and she wants to die. No wonder her next move is to try to commit suicide by taking an overdose of aspirin. Angela used to be a sweet little girl, so what’s changed her so dramatically?

In a London suburb, a young family is getting ready for Friday night at home. In the kitchen, mother Marina is making her trademark paella, while dad Nick is upstairs, bathing their two children, Luca who is six and four-year-old Ava. The happily domesticated scene is about to be shattered by a knock on the door. It’s the police, and they arrest Nick on suspicion of sexual assault on a young girl. Nick is a former TV actor who now runs his own business, called ACTUp, which runs drama workshops at schools and for companies, and the assault is alleged to have taken place at a school in Croydon.

It soon becomes clear that his accuser is Angela, and while Nick vehemently denies any wrongdoing, there’s a niggling suspicion that he’s hiding something. Meanwhile, after her failed suicide attempt, we start to get the feeling that Angela isn’t as cut and dried a character as we first assumed either…

The scene is set for a story that could have stepped right out of the pages of the tabloid newspapers, so keyed into the current psyche is it. This is #MeToo, on a wholly believable, down to earth level. An innocent young girl has been violated, while a minor celebrity must step into the media spotlight and face trial by Twitter and Facebook. No smoke without fire, right?

Prepare for some protracted reading sessions as you desperately try to sort out the truth from the bare faced lies in this densely plotted tale. The deeper in we are drawn, the more the stories of Nick’s wife Marina and Angela’s mother Donna come into play – and both women have a vitally important central role in what lies ahead. They are both convinced that the stories they’re being told are true… until, bit by bit, snippets are revealed which begin to put an entirely different slant on things. Think you can guess the outcome? You may as well toss a coin or start pulling the petals off daisies, chanting ‘he did it, he didn’t do it’.

This is the first time I’ve read a Lisa Ballantyne book and I now have her pegged as a sneaky so and so who delights in putting her readers off balance. It’s a most enjoyable experience and one I’d recommend to those who love cleverly crafted psychological thrillers with a wicked twist or two.

For more crime fiction centred on teenagers, try The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood or 13 Minutes by Sarah Pinborough.

Piatkus
Print/Kindle/iBook
£6.99

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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