Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Perfect Lie by Jo Spain

Title: The Perfect Lie
Author: Jo Spain
Publication: Quercus, paperback, 2021
Genre: Suspense
Setting: Long Island, NY and Cambridge, MA
Description: Erin Kennedy left Ireland for New York after her sister was murdered, and obtained a job in publishing which she enjoys. After she meets and marries Danny Ryan, a local policeman, she moves to Long Island, hoping for a happy ever after with him. But when officials come to arrest Danny, he commits suicide in front of her, leaving Erin not only grieving but with many questions about Danny’s secret life and what really caused his death.

My Impression: This book definitely kept me reading to find out what would happen but there were so many things that annoyed me about it, I am not sure where to begin. I had seen Spain’s name frequently and I don’t think she is published in the US, so this standalone seemed an idea gift for my sister. However, as with a book I read last week by Karen Swan, if an author decides to set a book in a foreign country, why wouldn’t she ask someone local to read her manuscript for idiomatic and factual accuracy?

Part of this book is actually set in my freshman dorm at Harvard, Canaday, never Canaday Hall. Spain implies it is an all-women dorm and is nicknamed “The Projects,” which I certainly never heard. It is considered a desirable place to live because more modern than some dorms and has a lot of single rooms. I shared a suite that had three bedrooms and a living room for just three people. Ally is a PhD candidate who is the proctor for an entry in Canaday, basically, a residential life advisor who lives in the same dorm as the undergraduates. She seems to have only female proctees, which would be very unusual. Only one dorm, Straus, was single sex when I was in college – I always thought that was because it was the closest to Harvard Square so was done for security, but that is the only situation I can think of in which a proctor would only supervise one gender. A professor calls Ally about a student who has been missing lectures (we would say classes). First of all, depending on the size of the class, a Harvard professor might never notice a student had not shown up and is unlikely to know from her other professors she has missed their classes too (how would he even know what else she was taking?). I also think it is very unlikely he would know who the student’s proctor was and would likely reach out to an administrative dean if concerned. Worse, Ally’s behavior would certainly lose her a trusted position as a proctor, which provides housing and meals – she hosts legendary drinking games in the dorm:
Being a proctor could be hard work, especially when most of the people who got the job were juggling further study themselves. But it also entailed making sure students had fun and Ally’s MO was the dorm party. In fact, Ally’s student social events had become so legendary, the biggest problem was limiting how many guests the girls could have over. Canaday Hall was not the prettiest dorm at Harvard (the red-bricked functional building was affectionately termed ‘The Projects’ by some) but under Ally and some other proctors’ guidance it had become the most popular among the fresher babies.
Canaday with Memorial Hall in the back right
It is true that proctors are supposed to facilitate dorm life but I think study breaks with ice cream are more what the Harvard Freshman Dean has in mind. And we don’t say ‘freshers’ either; the term used to be freshmen but during the pandemic, the university and its peers have begun to call them ‘first years.’ There were many such Britishisms, which I enjoy in a book set in Britain, but not when the setting is my own turf. All my former Penguin editor juices started to flow, as you can see. I was also amused that Ally, without a green card, had been able to secure a publishing job that covered her expenses in NYC. The story itself also has a lot of holes and way too many coincidences. It is told in flashbacks, which are sufficiently misleading that it was not easy to figure out what was going to happen until close to the end.

This is my twelfth book for Carol's Cloak and Dagger Reading. Challenge.
Source: Purchased in London for my sister. Unfortunately, when she unwrapped it, she said, “Oh, I didn't like the other book you gave me by this author.” Alas, had I known, I would not have given Spain a second chance! Let's hope the other books I lugged home are more successful! 

1 comment:

TracyK said...

Well, this seems like a waste of time. I usually try to ignore discrepancies when authors set their stories in other countries; after all it is fiction anyway. But it seems here that there was no effort to have any verisimilitude and I am sure the errors would take me out of the story. I agree, even back when I was in college at the University of Alabama in the late 1960s, I cannot imagine a professor contacting anyone else about a student missing classes.

In any case, I am sorry that this did not work out well for you or your sister.