The Lie, by Petra Hammesfahr

Translated by Mike Mitchell.

THE LIE is an "identical twins" thriller, though the two women concerned, Suzanne Lasko and Nadia Trenkler, are apparently not related. Suzanne is down on her luck – her marriage has failed, she's lost her job as a bank teller due to confusion she experiences after a years-ago car accident, and is living in a meagre apartment for which she has trouble finding the rent. She's close to her mother, who is ailing and now lives in a home, and for the old lady's pleasure she makes up an interesting life for herself in which she has a good job and a boyfriend (in reality an odious, sexually abusive neighbour).

Suzanne is eventually reduced to dipping into her mother's nest egg to pay her rent despite the many job applications she fills out, so she's relieved when she finally scores an interview at the firm of Behringer and partners. While in the building, she briefly encounters a very smart woman who could be her double. The interview goes well and Suzanne feels confident about being offered the job, so is devastated when she is rejected. Enter Nadia, the rich double who sees an opportunity in the fortuitous likeness, who pays the desperate Suzanne to stand in for her with her husband for a weekend while she goes off for a fling with her lover.

The premise is not new, but is given interest and depth by the character and life of Suzanne. At this stage I was intrigued to continue with the novel. I'm afraid that I then rather rapidly lost interest, as what transpires is a mish-mash of "lives of the rich and famous" told at the level of a mediocre TV movie or magazine-inspired romance, together with some casually described scientific research aspects and financial manoeuvres. The two women swap identities again and again; Michael (Nadia's husband) veers between illogical positions; and the constant shifting of suspicions is confusingly superficial – is Nadia really having an affair, or is she conducting a financial scam – and who are the mysterious hit men she's apparently involved with?

Somewhere in all this there is a good little psychological thriller struggling to get out, but unfortunately, for me it never does. If the novel had been revised (again) and shortened before publication, ironing out some of the inconsistencies and cutting some of the to-ing and fro-ing between Suzanne, Michael, Nadia and various bit-part scientists, neighbours, business associates and cardboard villains, the result would have been more focused and involving. Suzanne is the only character with life or depth, and the aspects of the plot concerning her non-Nadia life are the most interesting.

Petra Hammesfahr has written many novels, only one other of which has been translated into English (at time of writing this review). That novel, THE SINNER, is a dark and excellent journey into the depths of the human soul; it is in a different league from THE LIE and in my opinion a much better demonstration of this author's talents.

First published at Euro Crime, October 2009.

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This entry was posted in Books, Crime fiction, Domestic, Eurocrime, Europe, Germany, Psychology, Romance, Translated and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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