“The Liar’s Girl” by Catherine Ryan Howard. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Publishing, 2018. 330 pages,
After a horrifying freshman year at Dublin’s St. John’s College, Alison Smith moved away to the Netherlands and turned her back on the past. Ten years later, she’s asked to make a visit to the government psychiatric hospital where her long-ago boyfriend, Will Hurley, has been incarcerated since being convicted as a serial killer known as the Canal Killer.
Alison returns to Dublin and visits the prison at the behest of the investigating officers because two other girls have been attacked recently under the same circumstances as Liz, Alison’s best friend and college confidante, who died during their freshman year. Will Hurley, Alison’s first love, was charged with the death of Liz and four other girls pulled from the waters of the canal after late-night strolls alone in the vicinity of the college.
Will has been locked up in the intervening decade and sees the opportunity to cast doubt on his own confession with the advent of more recent murders of coeds in the same locale. Will tells his captors that he’s ready to divulge additional details on the crimes, but he really wants to talk to Alison in the hope that she will help to prove his innocence in light of the new murders.
Alison becomes unnerved when someone tampers with her hotel room in Dublin and the press pursues her so that she is forced to fall back on the hospitality of one of the investigating officers who lives in a remote suburban failed subdivision. The newly reopened inquiry is also muddied by an odd former student with a social media obsession relating to the case.
“The Liar’s Girl” slowly flashes back to Alison’s young adult social group, her acceptance to an elite university, her difficulty finding lodging, and the resultant decision to move into a dorm room in close proximity to childhood friend Liz. Alison had been slowly outgrowing her closeness with Liz as a result of maturation and her developing romance with Will. In hindsight, she feels guilt that she was emotionally distant from Liz at the time of her attack.
The convergence of survivor guilt, emotional insecurity, naiveté, and strange coincidences that bridge the past and present make this a taut psychological crime thriller from a young Irish writer who bears watching.
Author Catherine Ryan Howard was born in Cork and self-published her first two novels. Her third novel, Distress Signals, published in 2016, appeared on the short-list for the Crime Writer’s Association Dagger Award and was a contender for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year.
Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Manager and Genealogy Librarian at the May Memorial Library. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (336) 229-3588.