Short Take: This might be the most cracked-out, violent, bizarre, hilarious, disturbing book I’ve read in a very long time.
“He sits in the woods holding her hand.” That’s about as innocuous a first line as they come. Dude’s just chilling in the woods, holding a girl’s hand. It sounds kind of nice, actually.
But the dude in question is a seriously messed-up person. His name is Philip, and he just got out of prison. The girl’s hand? It used to belong to a fifteen-year-old hitchhiker, and he carries it everywhere. And he’s not chilling in the woods, he’s hiding, watching the home of wealthy businessman Jonathan Gaetan and his beautiful young wife Mary. When night falls, he breaks into the house, threatens and brutalizes them both, and when morning comes, Philip is gone and Jonathan is dead in the bathtub, savagely butchered.
Yet when Mary calls the police, she insists it was a suicide, and never mentions the intruder. And that’s just the start of the craziness.
Theodore Camel, the cop investigating Jonathan’s death is, well, an a-hole. He’s boozy and burned out and bitter and just wants to nap at his desk until he can collect his pension. At one time, he was a hotshot known as The Detector because of an uncanny ability to persuade (read: bully) suspects into telling the truth. Camel would have preferred to stay out of the whole thing, but given the high profile nature of the case, the higher-ups want him to dust off the old Detector act to interrogate Mary Gaetan. He can tell that she’s lying, but she sticks to her story, that Jonathan cut himself nearly to pieces in the bathtub.
It’s the next day, when Jo-Jo Creek, Jonathan’s assistant, shows up with some new and interesting information that Camel finds himself wanting to solve this particular mystery. Teaming up with his old partner, Alfred, he (almost against his will) takes on a case with more twists than a small intestine.
David Martin doesn’t just Go There. He buys a house, moves in, and becomes the mayor of There. There’s quite a lot of sexual sadism in this one. Like, to the point that I think the phrase “cut it off” could be retired. His writing style is some of the best I’ve seen, though. There’s a lot of story in less than 300 pages, and no wasted words. Every sentence is perfectly on point. For example, when Camel meets Jo-Jo, this happens: “‘I have some information,’ she announced. A lot of what she said came in the form of announcements.”
That, right there. Two brief sentences, and you already know so much about the character. That’s the difference between telling a story, even a good one, and serious word craftsmanship. I was so caught up in the delicious story, and fantastic, if unlikeable, characters, that it didn’t dawn on me until I started this review that Lie To Me was first published in 1990. I didn’t even notice the lack of cell phones and Internet in the detective’s toolbox.
And let me just say, Philip is one of the most fascinating bad guys I’ve come across. He’s sick, he’s insane, he has zero limits. He has a lifetime and a half’s worth of seriously awful stuff in his head, and the only thing you can be sure of with him is that no matter what you think he’s about to do, he’s going to do something worse. But he’s also just not that smart. It’s refreshing to read a character that is horrible and scary but also comically inept. When Philip would fail to do something terrible (usually injuring himself in the process), I found myself cheering and giggling. Hannibal Lecter he ain’t. His missteps are hilarious… until they aren’t.
There are two major revelations by the end of Lie To Me, and I’m proud to say that I had figured one of them out. The other one, however… whoa. Also, ew. There’s a final scene, after the mystery is solved, and the characters have all gone onto whatever happens after The End that just doesn’t square with the rest of the story. In a lesser book, it would probably cost the author a neuron in my rating, but when the rest of a story is so fantastic, I’ll forgive him a few pages of questionable choices.
The Nerd’s Rating: FIVE HAPPY NEURONS.