Light as air but with a dark heart: The Truth and Other Lies by Sascha Arango
The Truth and Other Lies
Text Publishing, $37
Blonde, beautiful and devoted, Bettina "Betty" Hansen is Henry Hayden's ideal mistress. But Betty wants more. She wants to be his wife. Henry, however, already has one of those, a very satisfactory one, and has no plans to trade her in.
Now Betty is pregnant; The Truth and Other Lies opens with Henry viewing the curled up, amphibious embryo of her ultrasound. And that's inconvenient. "In this instant Henry saw into the future. The amphibian would grow into a person. It would have rights and claims, it would ask questions…"
Henry's closet is exploding with skeletons and he has no use for more questions nor more secrets, particularly as the bestsellers which have made him wealthy are actually written by Martha – his wife. Action is called for, lies must be told, murderous intent acted upon. And that's where it all starts to unravel.
This engrossing debut novel is a witty, slickly written crime confection from one of Germany's leading screenwriters. Arango creates nuanced characters – no one is entirely good nor entirely bad and we warm to Henry despite gradually discovering the worst of him. Evil lurks just out of reach in his roof space in the form of a marten – a furry, northern hemisphere animal related to ferrets. His frenzied efforts to defeat it are mirrored by his efforts to keep at bay the consequences of his actions.
"I'm rotting, he decided. I'm rotting from the inside out. Serves me right.
"And then he heard a scratch of sharp teeth above him."
There is a fabulous cast of supporting characters, including Henry's friend, volatile Serbian fishmonger Obradin Basaric, who has a teetering business in the local bayside town. Claus Moreany, Henry's terminally ill publisher is in love with Betty, the editor who "discovered" Henry, and wants to marry her before he dies. And Moreany's long-time secretary, Honor Eisenderaht, is devoted to her boss.
And there are Henry's nemeses: Perceptive young, local detective Jenssen is convinced that a crime has been committed – by Henry. His homicide squad boss, however, thinks differently and has no time for sceptics who are not team players. And there is Gilsert Fasch, who was in an orphanage with Henry and has been investigating him, determined to expose him.
It has the makings of a farce, but Arango is too skilled writer to allow the farcical elements to take over. This is slick, controlled writing, witty and entertaining, light as air but with a dark heart.
The language is captivating and Imogen Taylor has ensured nothing is lost in translation from the original German. It's a safe bet few readers will claim the publishers' "love it or your money back guarantee".