Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent: Book Review

Set primarily in the early and mid-80s, Lying in Wait is Liz Nugent’s second book, mining a similar seam to Unravelling Oliver. Playing to her strengths again, the beauty of Nugent’s rich characterisation is something we see in life. For instance, we might find ourselves asking why someone is so cold, or idiosyncratic. 

We later find out he was an orphan, or had been home-schooled, or raised by Madonna. Then it all clicks. “Oh, right!”

Similarly, sense of entitlement, impetuosity, ratty behaviour, lack of social grace, inability to empathise or to display self-control, can all be EXPLAINED by a diabetic’s low blood sugar levels, or a childhood living in the stables with the pigs, or early retirement followed by limited social interaction, or having a popstar momma.

Enough for some writers as rationale for loopy behaviour, Nugent offers clear motivations and incentives alongside similar enabling environments. She also writes in an organic, fluid style that shows she’s adept at hiding any mechanics under the bonnet.

Prologues are old hat (ahem) in the view of some, but if I had written this dark, three-voice thriller, I may have opened with a prologue, showing some of these characters as they are today, before flashing back from their present to how it all began. 

The final bizarre image merits this bookend treatment front-and-centre, like one of the finest shots in a Tim Burton movie. Burton has his haters, but the man claims himself that he places precedence on the image over story. The same charge is unlikely to be levelled at Nugent and her haunting imagery; the story builds up wonderfully to the bleak point, told from three perspectives.

One thread – arguably, unresolved – involves the detectives trying to solve the mystery of the disappearance at the novel’s core. But if that’s what happens, that’s what happens! Nugent herself has claimed that there is also one anachronism in the story, but it was too attractive for her to omit: I find myself looking up the histories of various products and devices, trying to figure that one out!
As with her last release, Nugent highlights major issues related to Irish society in recent history while weaving universally-relatable life stories, or character portraits we can at least understand. Her skill in touching on the horrors of institutions of church and state, wrongheaded morality and basic class-related prissiness as she crafts these addictive tales is commendable.

This second novel delivers. You can buy it at Amazon UK, Amazon US, Eason in Ireland, and good bookshops in numerous territories.