Mystery — and coincidence — doubles down in these dark tales. But has the genre reached its saturation point?

By Leah Greenblatt
March 12, 2018 at 09:00 AM EDT
Flatiron Books; Berkley

There’s an almost freakish amount of shared surface area between Clare Mackintosh’s Let Me Lie and Alice Feeney’s Sometimes I Lie, two much-anticipated novels set for release March 13. Both feature tricky young protagonists; both take place in or near London, primarily in the week between Christmas and New Year; and both titles, of course, bleed into each other portentously. But more than anything, both are reaching for the same prize: another gold brick in the House That Damaged Literary Ladies Built.

Like so many players in the post–Gone Girl era, including a few that have already become their own phenomena in 2018 — A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen’s The Wife Between Us, and Alafair Burke’s The Wife — these stories rely, to a fault, on unreliable narrators. Sometimes has Amber Reynolds, a 35-year-old radio presenter who wakes up in a hospital bed, her mind bristlingly conscious but her body unresponsive. Unmoored at work and nearly friendless, with a faltering marriage to blocked novelist Paul, she knows she’s unhappy, though there’s only blank space where the memory of what landed her there should be. It could be Paul, or the college ex who recently tracked her down; or maybe it has something to do with the old diary entries interspersed from her primary-school days.

Let Me Lie’s Anna Johnson (oh, for an unusual surname, just once!) is less confused about the source of her pain. At 26, she’s freshly orphaned by her parents’ near-joint suicides, and a new mom to her own first child — conceived with her grief counselor, no less. But did her mother and father actually take their own lives? The answer to each book’s mysteries leads, eventually and inevitably, to a sort of piñata of sociopaths, a wicker basket full of crazy. And how much water can wicker hold? Not much, really, though the current ubiquity of novels like these seems to demand that the outcomes grow more outrageous with each new wave, as if we’ve become too saturated to accept anything less than a bonanza from our big reveals. And Mackintosh and Feeney — both shrewd, skillful writers — obligingly deliver, even if the end reward feels a lot like diminishing returns.

Let Me Lie: B
Sometimes I Lie: B+