Skin Deep by Liz Nugget | Compelling psychological drama

The title may be Skin Deep but there is nothing superficial about the characters in Liz Nugent’s third novel. 

The story opens with Cordelia Russel in a room where she has just murdered somebody and is wondering when rigor mortis will set in.

Born on a remote Irish island, Cordelia has been living on the French Riviera for twenty-five years, passing herself off as an English socialite. But her luck has run out. And we find out why as her story slowly unfolds over the coming chapters.

Like Liz Nugent’s earlier novels — Unravelling Oliver and Lying in Wait  Skin Deep is dark. Cordelia is not a likeable character but slowly you come to understand at least some of the reasons why she behaves as she does. And those reasons go back to her early life on the island, particularly her relationship with her father and the expectations he encouraged during her childhood — expectations grounded in myth and dark storytelling.

There are a lot layers to explore in this novel — island life with its hardship, secrets and tight community, family jealousies, betrayal, myth, charity, home, retribution, the elements of fire and water, earth and the mercurial nature of Cordelia herself.

This is carefully crafted novel where the threads are well interwoven and expertly tied together in a satisfying conclusion.

Lying in Wait | Another cracking thriller by Liz Nugent

Liz Nugent has produced another cracking psychological thriller in her second novel, Lying in Wait.

Set in Dublin of the 1980s, Lying in Wait is a twisty, psychological suspense tale of lies and manipulation that grabs your attention from the very first sentence and sustains it to the very last page.

The story is about two families whose lives change following a shocking encounter.

A judge and his wife — Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimmons — have killed a prostitute and buried her in their garden. And they’ve pretty much got away with it. After all, who’d suspect people like them?

The victim, Annie Dunne, is a drug-addict, living alone in a city bedsit. Her life doesn’t matter too much to many people and the investigation into her disappearance soon fizzles out.

But Andrew struggles with guilt while Lydia focuses on protecting their social status. Meanwhile their son Laurence becomes suspicious and gradually, his obsession with the dead girl’s family puts his own family at risk.

Unlike the Fitzsimons family, the Dunnes are not well off, and the official investigation into Annie’s disappearance, soon fizzles out. But, as the years go by, Annie’s sister, Karen remains determined to find out what happened.

The story is narrated by three main characters — Lydia, Laurence and Karen — in alternating chapters. It’s a structure that works well. Each of them is believable and each has an interesting point of view and unique pint of view.

Nugent is a skilful storyteller adept at creating psychologically disturbed characters. Like her debut novel, Unravelling Oliver, Lying in Wait is strong on suspense and tension. A page turner —and just over 300 pages — it could keep you up all night!

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent is published by Penguin Random House.
[Disclosure: I received an advance review copy from the publisher].

Unravelling Oliver | A Compelling Debut

Married to Alice, Oliver Ryan is a successful children’s author, with a fan base and charm. His books are illustrated by his talented wife but she plays down her part in their creation to allow her husband shine.

We first encounter Oliver in the opening sentence of the novel and it’s a shocking start.

“I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her. She just lay on the floor holding her jaw. Staring at me. Silent. She didn’t even seem to be surprised.”

Oliver has knocked his wife unconscious. The question is why?

Right from the word ‘go’ we begin to slowly build up a picture of who Oliver Ryan is and the circumstances that led to this violent outburst.

Liz Nugent slowly sets about unravelling Oliver to explain why he does what he does

What’s clever about the ‘unravelling’ of Oliver Ryan is that his character is revealed gradually through the voices of different characters as well as by himself. Various individuals  describe their interactions with him and almost all are betrayed by him one way or another. Perhaps the most powerful, and certainly the most poignant of these is Alice’s intellectually disabled brother, Eugene.
Slowly, as the stories emerge we see a pattern. Oliver’s motivations are manipulative, often malicious, sometimes even criminal. But he is adept at self-justification and what we learn of his early years helps us understand what made him the man he is even if we can’t condone his actions.
At just 231 pages, Unravelling Oliver is a short, satisfying read. Just be warned, you won’t want to put it down once you’ve started it.
[Disclosure: A free copy was provided by the publisher, Penguin, for the purpose of this review.]
If you like the sound of Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent, you’ll find more psychological thrillers here.