Sunday 20 October 2019

City's Grand Canal hides chilling secrets in this sly and addictive read

Fiction: The Liar's Girl, Catherine Ryan Howard, Corvus, €17.99

The Liar's Girl
The Liar's Girl

Margaret Madden

Catherine Ryan Howard's debut novel Distress Signals went in to the top 10 in the bestseller charts and was shortlisted for the 2016 Irish Book Awards Crime Novel of the Year and the 2017 CWA John Creasy New Blood Award.

Her tale riveted readers with its pacey portrayal of a missing person and cruise ship secrets.

Now she's back with another page-turner, this time set around a prestigious, fictitious Dublin university.

When gardai recover the body of a 19-year-old student from the capital's Grand Canal, it's not long before they pay a visit to Will Hurley, the infamous Canal Killer.

Ten years into a life sentence for the murder of five young women, he claims to have information that may be useful, but will only divulge it to his ex-girlfriend.

Alison fled to the Netherlands, after Will's arrest and the past is something she keeps buried. When Detective Garda Malone persuades her to return to Ireland to visit Will in the Central Psychiatric Hospital, the memories begin to re-surface.

"I remembered the spring of youth and limitless potential I'd seen - thought I'd seen - in him back in our St John's College days, the bright, happy future I'd imagined for us, the one I thought we'd spend together. How did we end up here?"

The chapters are divided into now and then, allowing the story to unfold with tantalising tension. Alison, and her best friend Liz, have left their Cork homes to begin their first year in university.

Living in halls, the teenagers love the freedom of college life. Alison falls head-over-heels for fellow student Will, and they spend every available minute together.

When some female students are murdered, fear ripples throughout the campus. A curfew is instigated and shuttle buses are provided to take students back to halls at night.

Alison is not overly-concerned: "I was sad for the girls and their families, yes, but I wasn't scared.

"They had all been walking home alone, by the canal, in the early hours of the morning, and I wasn't going to do that.

"I assumed they all had some kind of a connection to whatever psycho was doing this; I was sure I didn't have any."

A decade later and Alison is now facing her first love: "I'd held that hand […] Before and after it had smashed five skulls on to the cold, hard ground. Lifted young, broken bodies into freezing black water. Pushed them under and down, down, down."

His revelation is not one that she expects: "I do know something, Ali. I do. I… I know who killed those girls. The recent ones. It's…" Will swallowed hard. "It's the same guy who killed the girls back then."

Garda Malone persuades Ali to remain in Dublin as they consider the possibility that Will may be telling the truth.

The shadowy secrets of Grand Canal are well hidden, right to the climactic ending. The Liar's Girl is a sharp and modern thriller; cleverly plotted and completely immersive.

Catherine Ryan Howard has delivered another sinister, sly and addictive read.

Magnificently murky.

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