In the Company of Liars
I initially had some doubts about IN THE COMPANY OF LIARS, David
Ellis's new novel. The element that (momentarily) brought me up
short was the revelation that the narrative is in chronological
reverse. This method, though unusual, is not unknown, nor is it
limited to novels. The problem is that it is occasionally employed
as a trick of form to distract from the substance of the piece. An
example of this is Coldplay's video for "The Scientist," where the
method is utilized as a stalking horse to keep the viewer awake
during the song.
But it turns out there was no reason for me to worry. Ellis has
demonstrated in previous works such as LINE OF VISION and LIFE
SENTENCE that he need only rely on his prodigious reserve of talent
to carry the day. The same holds true here.
The use of the chronological reverse with respect to IN THE COMPANY
OF LIARS is a plot device that functions as a bit of
lagniappe to the primary strength of the narrative rather
than having to carry the day. It also, incidentally, presents a
dilemma for reviewers faced with the task of providing a sufficient
summary of the plot without giving everything away.
Let us try. Allison Pagone is accused of murdering her former
lover, Sam Dillon, a lobbyist whose company is the subject of a
Federal investigation. The evidence against Pagone is damning, and
she has done the prosecution the favor of behaving like a guilty
party as well. When she is found to have committed suicide, with
the weapon that murdered Dillon on the premises, the conclusion is
that she has saved the prosecution's time and some taxpayer
But, but…well, that is only the beginning. And the beginning
raises a bunch of questions, including whether Pagone actually did
the deed. If she didn't do it, who did? And what is the connection
between a murder committed by a jilted lover and the attack upon
and capture of a Middle Eastern terrorist? These intriguing
questions are more than enough, on their own, to keep you up all
night reading this novel. Yet the star here is Ellis, who leads the
reader through a minefield of potential distractions with nary a
misstep. And that's while walking backward, no less.
IN THE COMPANY OF LIARS is an intriguing, suspenseful, funhouse of
a book, with surprises jumping out at you from above, below and
sideways. You'll never forget this book, or Ellis, after you've
finished reading. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011