Andrew Wilson's debut novel, THE LYING TONGUE, is a compelling
tale of narcissism, greed, ego, betrayal, ambition, homosexuality
and sociopathy that grips readers immediately. The young, rather
unreliable narrator, Adam Woods, is a university dropout who
travels to Venice to take a post as an English tutor, only to find
that his charge has been sent to America, thus leaving him without
a job. But his not-to-be employers know of a man, a reclusive
writer, who is looking for an amanuensis. Woods immediately applies
for the position and gets it.
Gordon Crace, Adam's employer, is a former teacher who wrote a
"scandalous" novel years before that achieved both critical and
popular success. THE DEBATING SOCIETY is the sad story of a
scholarship student, at a lesser private school, who is tormented
by his classmates' cruel bullying. The "fictionalized" instructor
takes him under his wing, and the boy quickly becomes the teacher's
pet. Then, when he is booted onto the debating team, he finds
himself in the middle of the group who has been his harshest
tormentors. The youngster tries to stay out of everyone's way and
keeps his head down as secretary.
One day, just before the scheduled debate, the boys are talking
amongst themselves when one "puts forward a motion to debate, in
secret, the merits of murdering their respectable classics master.
The students pass the motion, thinking it all a hoot until one day
[one of the boys] lures the teacher into a forest and bludgeons him
to death." What seems to be a senseless murder is never solved, and
the boys, including the killer, complete their schooling and go on
with their lives, never looking back.
What becomes clear, as the narrative unfolds, is that Gordon Crace
overheard his students discussing the idea of murdering their
teacher, and that bit of eavesdropping later became the inspiration
for THE DEBATING SOCIETY. Strangely enough, no one made any
connections between Crace's boys, the murdered teacher or the plot
of his magnum opus --- at least not until Adam Woods stirs the pot
by bringing strange secrets to the surface.
Of the many questions Woods becomes obsessive about is Christopher
Davidson, the young man who was in Crace's employ before Woods
stepped in. From letters and other written material, Davidson was
beguiled and mesmerized by his mentor. On Crace's advice he left
university and moved in with the author, who encouraged his
ambition. Ironically the two fell in love and stayed together until
Davidson died. Why? How? Where? And was he the only one of the
former students under Crace's tutelage?
Another chapter opens when Lavinia Maddon, a successful biographer,
enters the scene, repeatedly trying to contact Crace. She has plans
to write his biography and is hoping for an interview. Crace "gets
crazy" whenever something like this comes up. At this time, Woods
is in a position to become the intermediary in any negotiations.
Following his muse takes him down dark alleys of the mind --- his
own and others. As he follows his twisted path, people die, lives
are ruined and secrets as dirty as the waterways in Venice emerge
with a vengeance.
None of the characters in THE LYING TONGUE is likable in any way.
They are morally corrupt and without loyalty to anyone other than
themselves. Crace is often described as reptilian, evil and barely
human. The peripheral characters are also without any redeeming
qualities; greed is the motivation for any move they make. These
creepy people fit perfectly in this tale set against a gloomy and
wet setting shadowed with dark images.
Nevertheless, THE LYING TONGUE is a riveting thriller in the spirit
of SLEUTH. The book is imbued with the influence of Andrew Wilson's
hero, Patricia Highsmith, about whom he wrote a biography, which
reads as a homage. She would be proud to see how Wilson has used
his talent to produce a novel that is unlike most of the usual
The plot is full of twists and turns, which are expected in an
exceptional thriller such as this. But the author takes the
"expected" and turns it inside out. A completely off-the-wall
conclusion ties up loose ends, leaving readers nodding their heads
and thinking, "Of course, that's the only way this fascinating
novel could end." We can only hope that Andrew Wilson is working on
his next book.
Reviewed by Barbara Lipkien Gershenbaum on January 6, 2011