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The Lying Tongueby Andrew Wilson
Synopses & Reviews
Fresh from finishing university in England, Adam Woods arrives in Venice to begin a new chapter in his life. He soon secures employment as the personal assistant of Gordon Crace — a famous expatriate novelist who makes his home in a dank and crumbling palazzo, surrounded by fabulous works of art, piles of unanswered correspondence and the memories of his former literary glory.
Before long Adam becomes indispensable to the feeble Crace, and he finds himself at once drawn to and repelled by his elderly employer's brilliant mind and eccentric habits. As Adam comes to learn more about the scandal that brought Crace to Venice years ago, he realizes he has stumbled upon the raw material that could launch his own literary career and makes a bold decision: He will secretly write the famous author's biography. But outsmarting Crace is easier said than done, and the two soon find themselves locked in a bitter contest over the right to determine how the story of Crace's life will end. Against the haunting backdrop of the serene city, the two men engage in a ruthless game of cat and mouse that builds to a breathtaking and unexpected conclusion.
"Patricia Highsmith, the subject of British journalist Wilson's acclaimed biography Beautiful Shadow, would be delighted by this standout debut novel, which heralds a major new talent in the psychological thriller genre. After a tutoring job in Venice falls through, aspiring novelist Adam Woods appears to luck into the perfect position there — as personal assistant to the reclusive Gordon Crace, an acclaimed writer whose life is shrouded in mystery and who's published only one novel. Crace, who's locked himself away from the glories of his chosen city, insists Woods abide by a set of strict rules, including not mentioning Crace's literary success. In clearing out the author's mess of a study, Woods finds two letters that hint at a dark secret in Crace's past, and begins to discreetly probe his employer's past, with calamitous results. Wilson brilliantly and subtly introduces doubt in the reader as to Woods's reliability and character before delivering some potent final plot twists. Fans of classic Hitchcock will be richly rewarded." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"'Wherever I went I saw a question mark at the heart of the city.' This evocative opening line, which begins Andrew Wilson's 'The Lying Tongue,' provides a telling metaphor for an extraordinary work of imaginative genius, meshing Dickens' gothic atmosphere with Hitchcock's suspenseful creepiness. The novel opens in Venice with a travelogue of shimmering historical description dappled... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) with poetic detail. The narrator, Adam Woods, a recently graduated and troubled student, tells us he has taken leave of England to start anew after an unseemly end to a relationship with his girlfriend. He has a job offer to tutor a 16-year-old boy and aspirations to write a novel. The tutoring job falls through before Woods even starts his new life. But good fortune strikes, and he is informed that a reclusive English author living in Venice, Gordon Crace, is in need of a personal assistant. Woods applies for and secures the job, describing his employer's liver-spotted hand during their initial handshake as feeling like the 'lifeless body of a tiny bird.' What unfolds, in three discreet parts, is Woods' initial fascination with the aged Crace, whose first and only novel, published in the 1960s, was an international best-seller. Crace is loath to mention his life as a writer and warns Woods against transgressing onto the subject, though he knows Woods aspires to be a writer. Their relationship is tenuous, claustrophobic and downright unnerving, underscored by a sublimated sexual tension as Crace, in his infirmity, comes to depend entirely on Woods as a surrogate companion. The gothic noir of the isolated relationship, set against the silent movement of gondolas and fog, is eerie. Failing in his attempt to write his own novel, Woods begins secretly writing a biography of Crace. As he sifts through Crace's personal correspondence, we are led through the enthralling process of how a biographer goes about resurrecting a buried life with the power to shape and define a subject's reputation and immortality. Early on, Woods hits pay dirt: a blackmail letter seemingly alluding to the death of Crace's one-time lover. The intensity heightens as Woods' disgust for Crace deepens, and he becomes determined to unearth his subject's past. Under the pretext of leaving to attend a funeral, Woods departs for England. Equally at home in exploring the rain-sodden British Isles, Wilson demonstrates his true scope as a writer. The novel takes on a breathtaking pace as Woods uncovers disturbing details related to Crace's tenure at a boys' school. Armed with sufficient evidence to force Crace into helping him publish the biography, Woods returns to Venice and a surreally violent denouement. With an intriguing climactic twist that borrows from the esoteric coded messaging made famous in 'The Da Vinci Code,' Wilson pulls off a mesmerizing tale that seeks to answer the question 'Who are we really?' Michael Collins is the author of six novels, including, most recently, 'Death of a Writer.'" Reviewed by Bryan BurroughNicholas DelbancoJuan WilliamsFrancine du Plessix GrayJoe HeimRon CharlesRobert PinskyJonathan YardleyMichael DirdaSara SklaroffMichael Collins, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
(hide most of this review)
"A mouldering Venetian palazzo, a decaying old man and an unscrupulous young writer. Corruption, seduction and a notable lack of guilt. A story as rank and rich as the city it is set in." Sarah Dunant, author of The Birth of Venus
"Wilson, a first novelist, clearly enjoys a good wink....He fashions his twisted tale with assurance and artistry, and although we may not particularly like any of his characters, we're still dying to know what happens to them." Booklist
"In genre fiction, the gold standard isn't always measured by originality and there are times when a familiar plot can comfort and delight....[A] romantic suspense story that's no less enthralling for being a bit quaint." Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
"Wilson overthinks the hectic denouement, but getting there offers the same skin-crawling pleasure that Highsmith knew how to deliver so well. (Grade: B+)" Entertainment Weekly
About the Author
Andrew Wilson is the author of Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, which was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize and won the Edgar Allan Poe Award for best biography. He has written for most of Britain's national newspapers, including The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian and the Daily Mail. He lives in London.
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