The Lying Tongue is the first novel by Patricia Highsmith's biographer Andrew Wilson. I've never read Highsmith (whose influence is apparently evident here), and dark psychological thrillers are not my usual fare, but it came highly praised by reviewers whose opinion I trust so I was keen to try it.
Art history graduate Adam Woods leaves London and a broken relationship to go to Venice to teach English. When his job falls through he becomes factotum to the reclusive writer Gordon Crace, living in Crace's decaying palazzo and subject to his eccentric and demanding will. Intrigued by his mysterious employer, Adam sets out to discover why, when Crace's novel "The Debating Society" was a major bestseller and made his name, the old man has produced nothing else in forty years.
The book's opening sentence reflects its nature: "Wherever I went I saw a question mark at the heart of the city....the Grand Canal snaking its way through the saturated land, a constant interrogator", and one quickly hears the first of many 'false' notes and knows to question every fact and every impression given. Saying any more about the plot without giving it away is difficult, but "The Lying Tongue" is a descriptive title as one or another main character is shown to be manipulative, devious, amoral and totally unscrupulous.
This is page-turning stuff, well-executed, clever, keeping the reader guessing right to the end. I was gripped but not, I must say, emotionally engaged - curious to know the outcome but not caring one way or another. For that reason I'd give it four out of five, but then maybe this sort of book doesn't admit of or require any deeper involvement than that? Perhaps those who read more in this area can tell me.