Sascha Arango is the award-winning German screenwriter of Tatort, a long-running detective series, so he knows a lot about writing clever, twisty crime thriller plots. He’s now brought that experience to his first novel, The Truth and Other Lies, a literary psychological thriller that’s being compared to Patricia Highsmith and James M. Caine – both masters at the psychological thriller. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether those comparisons are valid. To me, Mr. Arango’s work stands quite high up there on its own merits. You could say The Truth and Other Lies is a chilling portrayal of a charming psychopath, but it’s so much more than that. So let’s look at it a bit closer, shall we?
Meet Henry Hayden. People everywhere like and admire Henry as a person and as a highly successful thriller author. His novels are smash successes and the public can’t wait to get their hands on the next one. He is a devoted husband and an all around great guy. Even his editor and agent love him – well, why not? His books sell like hot cakes and the public can’t get enough of them.
Henry’s quite happy with his life. In short, his life is the perfect life for him and he can’t imagine it being any other way. He secretly loves being the center of attention and always has. He loves being an author and the acclaim it brings him, although he has kind of an aw-shucks attitude about it. He loves touring, speaking to his readers, and being interviewed. He seems like such a nice, regular guy – someone unspoiled by fame, very approachable, always upbeat and willing to bend over backwards for his friends, associates and fans. How could anyone not love Henry?
His wife, Martha, loves that what he does makes Henry happy, and it makes her happy too because it gives her the space and time to do the only thing she really loves, write. You see, Henry doesn’t really write his bestselling novels – Martha does and always has. To be fair, if not for Henry, Martha’s writing would never have seen the light of day since she was quite content to just store her work away in boxes, never showing it to anyone. So you might say they make the perfect combination: a painfully shy wife who loves writing obsessively and a modestly gregarious husband who is a natural salesman and secretly loves being the center of attention.
“Henry had often wondered what course his life would have taken if he hadn’t met Martha. The answer he gave himself never varied – the same as before. He would not have become a significant author, would not, as a result, have been able to live a free and prosperous life, certainly wouldn’t drive an Italian sports car – and no one would know his name. Henry was quite straight with himself on the matter. He would have remained invisible – an art in itself.”
And then dreadful things begin to happen. The first big oops of a thing is that Henry’s secret mistress, Betty, gets pregnant. Oh, did I forget to mention loving, faithful husband Henry has a mistress? My bad. In his complete panic over his mistress getting pregnant, Henry devises a plan to fix everything. Unfortunately his plan isn’t up to his usual standards and he makes at least one mistake, and that’s when the dominoes begin to slowly fall one by one in an ever increasing cascade of doom.
“She put the car in gear. ‘How are you getting on with the novel?’
‘Not much more to go.’
He bent down to her through the open door. ‘Have you told anybody about us?’
‘Not a soul,’ she replied.
‘It is my child, isn’t it? I mean, it really is there, it is going to happen?’
‘Yes, it’s yours. It’s going to happen.’…
He watched her until she disappeared. Then he stamped out her half-smoked cigarette that lay smoldering in the grass. He believed her. Betty wouldn’t lie to him; she had far too little imagination for that.”
Soon the police are looking for Henry. Not only is his current life in danger but his past one as well, a past he has been a master at keeping hidden. Now it’s threatening to come leaping out of the closet (not that kind of closet) to seal his fate. But our Henry is one very, very clever man and always has been. Desperate times call for desperate measures, so he begins to weave together a plan so devious and masterful that there’s no way he’ll ever get caught – or at the very least not punished. But will it work? Will he get away with everything he’s done in his life or will it finally catch up with him and do him in with some well-deserved instant karma?
There is no way to write a review of this novel without providing spoilers, so I’ve tried to keep them as minimal as possible. The only way not to provide spoilers would have been to just say, “This is one hell of an amazing and original novel, and I highly recommend it.”
Let’s be honest – all of the characters in this novel are unlikeable to one degree or another. At the same time, they are all so fascinating that I couldn’t stop reading about them. Henry could be called an anti-hero. He’s a classic sociopathic narcissist; not just someone with a few of those tendencies but a full-blown DSMIV case study. Henry is not at all who he appears (gross understatement), has no conscience at all, and he has fooled his whole world for most of his life. To give Henry some credit, Betty seems like the last person who should have a child. And that’s all I’ll say about that one. Martha? Well, you’ll have to read the book to learn about Martha, whose personality I’ll let remain a surprise.
I already let the cat out of the bag so you know I highly recommend this psychological thriller, if you’re a thriller fan and want to peek inside of a twisty mind like Henry’s. I couldn’t stop reading his story – and this is his story. Sascha Arango’s talents have been honed through his screenwriting to shine in The Truth and Other Lies. I hope it’s just the first of many novels to come.
Can’t wait to read it?
The Truth and Other Lies was published in the U.S. on June 23, 2015, with various slightly earlier publication dates in various languages in over 13 other countries, so wherever you live it’s available from your favorite online bookseller. Click on the links below (or in the right column for iBooks) to get it delivered so you can start reading it.
I’d love to get your comments on The Truth And Other Lies, Sascha Arango, and/or this review.
If you like this review, please contribute to our Reviewers’ Caffeine Fund in the left column. Just a cup a day, that’s all we ask.