While I was reading Jean Potts' The Little Lie, I must confess that for quite a while I was in two minds about it. On the one hand, Potts's prose is very readable and I know that two excellent judges of a crime novel (John Norris and Kate Jackson) rate this story highly. On the other hand, I felt that the narrative was so low-key, I simply wasn't too excited about what was going to happen. But as I kept turning the pages, it began to dawn on me that this is, indeed, a top-class novel of suspense.
Suspense is the key word. Often, for example in the work of Cornell Woolrich or some of today's psychological thrillers, the author sets out to keep the suspense at fever pitch. This can work brilliantly, although sometimes it can also become rather exhausting. Jean Potts is at the other end of the spectrum, a quiet craftswoman who ratchets up the tension so gently that you hardly notice that you're being squeezed into a breathless state.
This book is one of two in another of those nicely produced volumes from Stark House Press, through whom I've discovered a number of gems lately. John Norris provides the introduction. The little lie of the title is told by Dee Morris, a landlady who has a bitter argument with her boyfriend, Chad. When Chad walks out on her, she pretends that nothing is wrong between them. However, the row has been overheard by one of her tenants, the nosey teacher Mr Fly.
Mr Fly is a great character, someone whose undeniable good intentions prove disastrous because they are accompanied by inquisitiveness and naivete. Potts draws him with great skill. For quite a long time, not a great deal happens, hence my initial reservations about the book. But a patient reader will reap a considerable reward. The later chapters are quite devastating. Definitely a novel to savour. I admit it - this is a book much subtler than at first I realised.
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