Review: WHY DID YOU LIE? by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

The multiple-threads-without-obvious-connection novels are coming thick and fast these days but few are as skillfully realised as Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s standalone novel WHY DID YOU LIE?

There are three strands which all, on the face of it, sound a little dull. Or at least not very mysterious. A policewoman struggles to cope with her husband’s attempted suicide; unable to make the decision to remove his life support despite there being no hope of his return to health. A family returns to Iceland after a house-swapping holiday to discover some odd things not as they would have expected. Four people head to the very inhospitable lighthouse on Thrídrangar (basically a large rock sticking out of the sea) to undertake some maintenance and have to stay longer than they planned.

I was a good third of the way into the book before realising that nothing traditionally ‘thrilling’ had happened yet but I was completely hooked. I’m not sure I can explain why. Part of it is the expectation: the sense that things will…eventually…go awry and Sigurdardottir makes the anticipation work. She cuts between the three strands at exactly the right moment. Not in a James-Patterson “cliffhanger at the end of every 3-page chapter” kind of way. But we spend enough time with each set of characters to be invested in learning more about their respective situations but not too much that we become bored. There’s lots of suggestion and doubt and misdirection too so that even the savviest of crime fiction readers will not be able to predict everything that happens. Even when things do start to knit together – when we start to see why bad things are happening to this disparate group of people – it’s still not clear which of the characters we’ve come to know is responsible for the mayhem.

Something else which helps build the suspense is the ordinariness of the characters. They are people who are easy to identify with because they’re people we recognise…people like us. When their lives slowly start to unravel the unease they must be feeling is all too easy to imagine. I also like that the characters are understated. Not filled with quirks and psychological damage or other obvious elements designed to make them stand out.

The psychological thriller label is used too often but in the case of WHY DID THEY LIE? it is apt. It is unsettling rather than bump-in-the-night scary but that’s just what I like.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Narrator Katherine Manners
Translator Victoria Cribb
Publisher Hodder & Stoughton, 2016
Length 11 hours 11 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series standalone
Source of review copy I bought it

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7 Responses to Review: WHY DID YOU LIE? by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

  1. This one was on my list, anyway, Bernadette, as I am a fan of the author. She really does do suspense very very well, I think. And I agree about her skill with ‘normal,’ ‘ordinary’ people. I’m glad you enjoyed this one so well.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Patti Abbott says:

    This appeals to me very much. Off to see if my library has it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I spotted this book in a kindle sale the other day and was tempted but I hadn’t seen many reviews so I added it to my wish list. I’m so pleased I’ve read your lovely review today as you’ve helped me make my mind up to buy it. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Helpful review as I have been considering buying this book.

    Liked by 1 person

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