Saturday, 16 June 2018

Book Review: BELIEVE ME by J.P. Delaney

Title: Believe Me
Author: J.P. Delaney
Publisher: Quercus Books
Read: June 2018
Expected publication: 26 July 2018
My Rating: ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ๐ŸŒŸ

Book Description:

A struggling actor, a Brit in America without a green card, Claire needs work and money to survive. Then she gets both. But nothing like she expected.

Claire agrees to become a decoy for a firm of divorce lawyers. Hired to entrap straying husbands, she must catch them on tape with their seductive propositions.The rules? Never hit on the mark directly. Make it clear you’re available, but he has to proposition you, not the other way around. The firm is after evidence, not coercion. The innocent have nothing to hide.

Then the game changes.

When the wife of one of Claire’s targets is violently murdered, the cops are sure the husband is to blame. Desperate to catch him before he kills again, they enlist Claire to lure him into a confession.

Claire can do this. She’s brilliant at assuming a voice and an identity. For a woman who’s mastered the art of manipulation, how difficult could it be to tempt a killer into a trap?

But who is the decoy . . . and who is the prey?

My musings:

I absolutely loved JP Delaney’s previous novel, The Girl Before, so Believe Me was one of my most anticipated books of the year and I was ecstatic when I received an ARC from Netgalley. The premise was very intriguing: a young actress illegally working for a private detective agency in NY without a green card finds herself entangled in a murder investigation – to get herself out of trouble she agrees to work for the police as an undercover decoy to help catch the killer. It sounds very original, and dangerous, just what I like. Remembering the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere that immediately captured my attention in The Girl Before, I was looking forward to see how Delaney would tackle this plot!

Anyone who reads my reviews will know that I love a mystery that messes with my mind – and this book surely managed to do that! In fact, at one point I was so confused that I had no idea of what was really going on. The author takes the theme of unreliable narrator to an extreme, because each and every character of the book tells lies – you can’t take anything for granted! I really liked the premise of Claire taking on different personalities as character studies for her acting career, who makes her a bit of a slippery fish. Is she telling the truth, or is she acting? I could never be sure, but I really enjoyed the parts of the book that describe her acting classes, which opened up a whole different world to me. Parts of the book are written like scenes from a play, with a location and a dialogue between the different players, which was a very original idea. As they are seen through Claire’s eyes, who often lets her imagination play out pretend scenarios in her mind, I was never sure if those conversations really took place or if they were solely her own construction. Clever, I thought, even whilst feeling like a blind man tapping around in the murky darkness trying to find out the truth. To be honest, I am still not quite sure about some things ....

Whilst the novel immediately drew me in and got my attention, I found myself floundering a bit around the half-way mark, as I was trying to untangle the lies from the truth, coming up short. At times I felt like the author was trying to pack too much into the story, going off on different tangents that didn’t add much to the overall plot for me. I also admit I didn’t care at all for the BDSM theme, and the excerpts from Baudelaire’s twisted S & M poetry, a subject I found disturbing, seedy and sickening and which detracted from the main story. In hindsight, looking at how the overall plot played out, I think that Delaney had a great, original idea, with a clever, multi-layered plot that unfortunately got drowned in convoluted detail and dwelling on the dark subject matter of the BDSM scene. For me, the strength in The Girl Before lay in its claustrophobic setting and a relatively small cast of characters, which created tension. Here, we have a multitude of unreliable characters, all of whom are untrustworthy, and many different settings, to a point where it all got a bit too confusing for me – instead of tension, I felt frustration on the many different directions this story was taking, and felt it could have used a bit of editing to bring it back on track. Delaney states in his postscript that Believe Me is the re-write of an earlier novel he thought he had not done justice to – maybe this explains why it felt a bit disjointed to me, as if different aspects of the book didn’t quite gel.

Whilst I never fully warmed to Claire, I found her background intriguing and I thought she made a perfect protagonist for a psychological thriller. It was soon obvious that she could take on any personality at will, as part of her aspirations to become a great actress, and her foster-child background, which meant that she had very few personal ties and was a bit of a wild child. I really enjoyed the parts where Claire described her acting methods, and the way she could lose herself in her many different roles – and the way she used these skills to ensnare her subjects. However, I felt that parts of Claire did not quite ring true, and she always kept me at arms’ length, denying me a deeper connection that would have invested me more in the story. 


All in all, this was a mixed bag for me, and the subject matter not really my cup of tea. However, lovers of twisty thrillers with unreliable characters will undoubtedly be as intrigued by the premise of this story as I was, even if they may find themselves floundering in this maelstrom of lies and thoroughly unlikeable people they encounter along the way. Whilst the final denouement was a bit farfetched, I found the overall unravelling of the plot clever and original, redeeming those parts of the story that didn’t work so well for me.

Thank you to Netgalley and Quercus Books for the free electronic copy of this novel and for giving me the opportunity to provide an honest review.

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