All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Liar’s Candle by August Thomas

on June 27, 2018

Liar’s Candle 
August Thomas
Simon & Schuster AUS
2018, 310p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}:


Penny Kessler, a young intern at the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, wakes up in a hospital on the morning of July 5th to find herself at the centre of an international crisis. The day before, the Embassy had been the target of a devastating terrorist attack that killed hundreds of Penny’s friends and colleagues. Not only has a photograph of Penny emerging from the rubble become the defining image of the event (#TheGirlwiththeFlag), but for reasons she doesn’tunderstand, her bosses believe she’s a crucial witness.

Suddenly, everyone is desperately interested in what Penny knows. But what does she know? And who can she trust? As she struggles to piece together her memories of the event, she discovers that Zach Robson, the young diplomat she’s been falling for all summer, went missing during the attack. Now his boss at the CIA, Christina Ekdahl, wants people to believe that Zach was a traitor. Only one person stands in her way: Penny. And Christina will do anything to silence her.

In a race to keep from being killed and to uncover the truth, Penny reluctantly partners with Connor Beauregard, a rookie CIA officer on his first overseas assignment. But the two won’t survive unless they can outwit – and outmaneuver – everyone from the Turkish president and his daughter to Islamic extremists, to the US State Department, to the CIA itself.

This is the first in an exciting new thriller series and I really enjoyed it. Penny Kessler is an intern at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey. She speaks fluent Turkish and although she’s excited about her role, she spends most of the time trying to impress her boss with little result. When a bomb explodes at a party thrown by the Embassy, Penny becomes a symbol of hope for the world. Many people are killed and Penny, stumbling out of the chaos with an American flag quickly ends up on the covers of newspapers around the world.

The powers that be are so desperate to talk to Penny they have her doctors forcibly wake her, convinced she knows something about what happened. Penny is dazed and confused, not sure why people are demanding so many things of her. Soon Penny becomes trapped in a tug of war between countries as she’s taken against her wishes (and that of the United States) to the house of the Turkish Prime Minister to ‘recuperate’.

Convinced that this cannot be a good development, Penny must escape from a heavily armed compound and find Zach. She’s certain that he knows something and that his disappearance isn’t a coincidence. Standing in her way are the very people that should be protecting her.

I thought this started off with a great hook and the reader is encouraged to identify with Penny right from the very beginning due to her vulnerable state and the way that she is treated by the very people that should be looking to protect her. Instead they seem to feel that Penny was ‘in’ on this act of terror and want to bully information out of her, despite the fact that she can’t even think straight let alone give them much information. You become even more invested in Penny when she proves herself to be smart, capable and resourceful, even when she’s placed in a position of weakness and vulnerability.

It was great to read a thriller where the focus is on a female main character, with a male ‘offsider’ rather than the reverse and also a pairing where there is no romantic or sexual tension at all. Despite not having any formal training in espionage, evading capture or anything like that, Penny, a regular old intern and college student, manages to successfully pull off a number of escapes, infiltrate a militant group of possible terrorists and generally just move around Turkey without being captured. As with most thrillers, the plausibility of some of these events is dubious but it’s so entertaining that it doesn’t really matter. I found a lot of the plot regarding the truth behind the bombing quite believable actually – which is a bit scary!

I really enjoyed the setting – Turkey is not a place I have visited too often in fiction and it’s such an interesting country, straddling two continents, a strong Muslim population and the current regime has strengthened Islamic ties and has also gone backwards in things like freedom of press (the lack of which plays a role in this novel). It shares a border with Syria and is the largest host of Syrian refugees. Actually after finishing this book, I fell down a Wikipedia hole researching Turkey and it’s development, the Syrian crisis and the amount of refugees that have crossed its borders as well as Turkish attitudes towards the United States. I’ve read several memoirs of people who have fled Syria by crossing the border into Turkey and either being granted temporary protection status there and stayed, or using Turkey as a gateway to another European country.

This was a great start to a series, introducing the reader to a likeable protagonist and giving a fast paced action packed read that has definitely made me keen for the next book featuring Penny Kessler, out next year. I’m really interested to see what path she chooses next and what that will bring.


Book #108 of 2018

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