The second heartstopping suspense novel by international bestselling author Liz Nugent—filled with dark secrets, twisted relationships, and unexpected surprises.
My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.
In 1980s Dublin, Lydia Fitzsimons seems to have the perfect life—wife of Andrew, a respected judge, and mistress of Avalon, the beautiful house where she grew up. Her pride and joy, however, is her only child, her son Laurence, to whom she is utterly, obsessively devoted.
But her husband's murder of Annie Doyle, accidental or not, sets into motion a dark downward spiral. No one knows what Lydia and Andrew were doing with a drug-addled prostitute late at night on a deserted stretch of the strand near Dublin, but they stuffed her body into the trunk of their car and buried it in their tidy suburban garden, hoping that will put the matter to rest. Annie was a junkie from the wrong side of the tracks; surely no one will miss her or care to find out what happened to her.
Except that Annie has a sister. Her twin, Karen, who has fared much better in life, is desperate to find her. And when Karen crosses paths with Laurence, isolated and lonely, things begin to unravel. Laurence may be overweight and ungainly and bullied at school, but he's more clever than he's given credit for. He knows that something is very, very wrong in the Fitzsimons household—and he is determined to discover the truth...
My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it. After we had overcome the initial shock, I tried to stop him speaking of her. I did not allow it unless to confirm alibis or to discuss covering up any possible evidence. It upset him too much and I thought it best to move on as if nothing had happened. Even though we did not talk about it, I couldn’t help going over the events of the night in my mind, each time wishing that some aspect, some detail, could be different, but facts are facts and we must get used to them.
It was the fourteenth of November 1980. It had all been arranged. Not her death, just the meeting to see if she was genuine, and if not, to get our money back. I walked the Strand for twenty minutes to ensure that there was nobody around, but I needn’t have worried. The beach was deserted on that particularly bitter night. When I was satisfied that I was alone, I went to the bench and waited. A cruel wind rushed in with the waves and I pulled my cashmere coat around me and turned up the collar. Andrew arrived promptly and parked not far from where I was seated, as instructed. I watched from thirty yards away. I had told him to confront her. And I wanted to see her for myself, to assess her suitability. They were supposed to get out of the car and walk past me. But they didn’t. After waiting ten minutes, I got up and walked toward the car, wondering what was taking so long. As I got closer, I could hear raised voices. And then I saw them fighting.
The passenger door swung open and she tried to get out. But he pulled her back toward him. I could see his hands around her throat. I watched her struggle, mesmerized momentarily, wondering if I could be imagining things, and then I came back to myself, snapped out of my confusion, and ran to the car. “Stop! Andrew! What are you doing?” My voice was shrill to my own ears, and her eyes swiveled toward me in shock and terror before they rolled back upward into her head. He released her immediately, and she fell backward, gurgling. She was almost but not quite dead, so I grabbed the steering-wheel lock from the footwell at her feet and smashed it down onto her skull, just once. There was blood and a little twitching and then absolute stillness. I’m not sure why I did that. Instinct?
She looked younger than her twenty-two years. I could see past the lurid makeup, the dyed-black hair, almost navy. There was a jagged white scar running from a deformed top lip to the septum of her nose. I wondered that Andrew had never thought to mention that. Her jacket had been pulled off one arm during the struggle, and I saw bloodied scabs in the crook of her elbow. There was a sarcastic expression on her face, a smirk that death could not erase. I like to think I did the girl a kindness, like putting an injured bird out of its misery. She did not deserve such kindness.
Andrew has always had a short fuse, blowing up at small, insignificant things and then, almost immediately, becoming remorseful and calm. This time, however, he was hysterical, crying and screaming fit to wake the dead. “Oh Christ! Oh Jesus!” he kept saying, as if the son of God could fix anything. “What have we done?” “We?” I was aghast. “You killed her!” “She laughed at me! You were right about her. She said I was an easy touch. That she’d go to the press. She was going to blackmail me. I lost my temper. But you . . . you finished it, she might have been all right . . .” “Don’t even . . . don’t say that, you fool, you idiot!” His face was wretched, tormented. I felt sympathy for him. I told him to pull himself together. We needed to get home before Laurence did. I ordered him to help me get the body into the trunk. Through his tears, he carried out my instructions. Infuriatingly, his golf clubs were in there, unused for the last year, taking up most of the space, but luckily the corpse was as slight and slim as I had suspected, and still flexible, so we managed to stuff her in. “What are we going to do with her?” “I don’t know. We have to calm down. We’ll figure it out tomorrow. We need to go home now. What do you know about her? Does she have family? Who will be looking for her?” “I don’t know. . . . She . . . I think she might have mentioned a sister?” “Right now nobody knows she is dead. Nobody knows she is missing. We need to keep it like that.”
When we got home to Avalon at quarter past midnight, I could see by the shadow from his window that the bedside light was on in Laurence’s bedroom. I had really wanted to be there when he got home, to hear how his evening had been. I told Andrew to pour us a brandy while I went to check on our son. He was sprawled across the bed and didn’t stir when I ruffled his hair and kissed his forehead. “Good night, Laurence,” I whispered, but he was fast asleep. I turned out his lamp, closed his bedroom door, and went to the bathroom cabinet for a Valium before I went downstairs. I needed to be calm. Andrew was trembling all over. “Jesus, Lydia, we’re in serious trouble. Maybe we should call the police.” I topped off his glass and drained the bottle into my own. He was in shock. “And ruin Laurence’s life forever? Tomorrow is a new day. We’ll deal with it then, but we must remember Laurence, whatever happens. He mustn’t know anything.” “Laurence? What has it to do with him? What about Annie? Oh God, we killed her, we murdered her. We’re going to prison.” I was not going to prison. Who would look after Laurence? I stroked his arm in an effort to comfort him. “We will figure it out tomorrow. Nobody saw us. Nobody can connect us with the girl. She would have been too ashamed to tell anyone what she was up to. We just have to figure out where to put her body.” “You’re sure nobody saw us?” “There wasn’t a soul on the Strand. I walked the length of it to make sure. Go to bed, love. Things will be better tomorrow.” He looked at me as if I were insane. I stared him down. “I’m not the one who strangled her.” Tears poured down his cheeks. “But maybe if you hadn’t hit her . . .” “What? She would have died more slowly? Or been permanently brain damaged?” “We could have said that we’d found her like that!” “Do you want to drive back there now and dump her, call an ambulance from a pay phone, and explain what you are doing there on the Strand at one o’clock in the morning?” He looked into the bottom of his glass. “But what are we going to do?” “Go to bed.” As we ascended the stairs, I heard the whir of the washing machine. I wondered why Laurence had decided to do laundry on a Friday night. It was most unlike him. But it reminded me that my clothes and Andrew’s really needed to be washed too. We both stripped, and I set aside the pile of laundry for the morning. I washed the sand off our shoes and swept the floors we had passed over. I deposited the sand from the dustpan in the back garden, on the raised patch of lawn beyond the kitchen window. I studied the ground for a moment. I had always thought of having a flower bed planted there. When I slipped into bed later, I put my arms around Andrew’s trembling form, and he turned to me and we made love, clawing at and clinging to each other like survivors of a terrible calamity.
Andrew had been a very good husband until just a year previously. For twenty-one years, our marriage had been solid. Daddy had been very impressed with him. On his deathbed, Daddy had said he was relieved to be leaving me in good hands. Andrew had been Daddy’s apprentice at Hyland & Goldblatt. He had taken Andrew under his wing and made him his protégé. One day, when I was about twenty-five, Daddy had telephoned me at home and told me that we were having a special guest for dinner and that I should cook something nice and get my hair done. “No lipstick,” he said. Daddy had a thing about makeup. “I can’t stand those painted trollops!” he would say about American film stars. Daddy’s views could be extreme. “You are my beautiful daughter. No point in gilding a lily.” I was curious about this visitor and why I should dress up for him. I should have guessed, of course, that Daddy was intent on matchmaking. He needn’t have worried. Andrew adored me right away. He went to enormous lengths to charm me. He said that he would do anything for me. “I can’t stop looking at you,” he said. And indeed, his eyes followed me everywhere. He always called me his prize, his precious jewel. I loved him too. My father always knew what was best for me. Our courtship was short and very sweet. Andrew came from a good family. His late father had been a consultant pediatrician, and though I found his mother a little contrary, she raised no objections to our relationship. After all, when Andrew married me, he would get Avalon too—a five-bedroom detached Georgian house on an acre of land in Cabinteely, South County Dublin. Andrew wanted us to get a house of our own when we got married, but Daddy put his foot down. “You’ll move in here. This is Lydia’s home. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” So Andrew moved in with us, and Daddy gave up the master bedroom and moved to the large bedroom on the other side of the hallway. Andrew grumbled a little to me. “But, darling, don’t you see how awkward it is? I’m living with my boss!” And I admit that Daddy did order Andrew around quite a lot, but Andrew got used to it quickly. I think he knew how lucky he was. Andrew did not mind that I did not want to host parties or socialize with other couples. He said he was quite happy to keep me to himself. He was kind and generous and considerate. He usually backed away from confrontation, so we did not have many arguments. In a heated moment, he might kick or throw inanimate objects, but I think everyone does that from time to time. And he was always terribly contrite afterward. Andrew worked his way up through the ranks until finally all his time on the golf course paid off, and three years ago, he was appointed as a judge in the criminal courts. He was a respected member of society. People listened to him when he spoke and quoted him in the newspapers. He was widely regarded as having the voice of reason on matters legal and judicial. But last year, Paddy Carey, his old pal, accountant and golfing partner, had left the country with our money. I thought that, at the very least, Andrew would be careful with our finances. That was the husband’s job, to be a provider and to look after the economic well-being of the household. But he had trusted Paddy Carey with everything and Paddy had fooled us all. We were left with nothing but debts and liabilities, and Andrew’s generous salary barely covered our expenditure. Had I married badly after all? My role was to be presentable, beautiful, charming—a homemaker, a companion, a good cook, a lover, and a mother. A mother. Andrew suggested selling some land to developers to raise capital. I was horrified at the suggestion. Nobody of our status would do such a thing. I had spent my whole life in Avalon. My father had inherited it from his father, and it was the house in which I was born. And the house in which my sister died. I was not going to compromise on selling any part of Avalon. Nor was I going to compromise on the money we needed to pay the girl. But we had to take Laurence out of the hideously expensive Carmichael Abbey and send him to St. Martin’s instead. It broke my heart. I knew he was unhappy there. I knew he was victimized because of his class and accent, but the money simply wasn’t there. Andrew quietly sold some of the family silver to pay our debts, and we kept the wolf at bay. He could not risk being declared bankrupt, as he would have been forced to resign from the bench. We had never lived extravagantly, but the few luxuries that were normal to us began to disappear. He gave up his golf club membership but insisted that he could still pay my store account at Switzer’s and Brown Thomas. He always hated to disappoint me. But now this? A dead girl in the trunk of the car in the garage. I was sorry she was dead, but I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t or couldn’t have strangled her myself under the circumstances. We just wanted our money back. I couldn’t stop thinking about the scars on the girl’s inner arm. I had seen a documentary about heroin addicts on the BBC, and reports of a heroin epidemic were in our newspapers. It seemed obvious that she had injected our money into her bloodstream, as if our needs and wants hadn’t mattered. As Andrew slept fitfully, whimpering and crying out occasionally, I made plans.
The next morning, a Saturday, Laurence slept late. I warned Andrew to say as little as possible. He readily agreed. He was hollow-eyed, and there was a tremor in his voice that never quite went away after that night. He and Laurence had always had a fraught relationship, so they were not inclined to be conversational. I planned to get Laurence out of the house for the day, send him into town on some errand or other while Andrew buried the girl in our garden. Andrew was shocked that we would bury her here, but I made him see that, this way, she could not be discovered. We were in control of our own property. Nobody had access without our permission. Our large rear garden was not overlooked. I knew exactly the spot where she could be buried. In my childhood there had been an ornamental pond under the plane tree beyond the kitchen window, but Daddy had filled it in after my sister’s death. Its stone borders, which had lain under the soil for almost forty years, were conveniently grave-like. After Andrew had buried the body, he could clean out and vacuum the car until there would be no trace of fibers or fingerprints. I was determined to take all precautions. Andrew knew from his job the kind of thing that could incriminate a person. Nobody had seen us on the Strand, but one can never be too sure of anything.
When Laurence arrived at the breakfast table, he had a noticeable limp. I tried to be cheerful. “So how are you today, sweetie?” Andrew stayed behind his Irish Times, but I could see his knuckles gripped it tightly to stop it from shaking. “My ankle hurts. I tripped going upstairs last night.” I examined his ankle quickly. It was very swollen and probably sprained. This thwarted my plans to send him into town. But I could still contain my boy, confine him to quarters, so to speak. I wrapped his ankle and instructed him to stay on the sofa all day. That way, I could keep an eye on him, keep him away from the rear of the house, where the burial was to take place. Laurence was not an active boy, so lying on the sofa watching television all day and having food delivered to him on a tray was no hardship to him at all. As dusk fell, when everything had been done, Andrew lit a bonfire. I don’t know what he was burning, but I had impressed upon him the need to get rid of all evidence. “Think of it as one of your court cases—what kinds of things betray the lie? Be thorough!” To give him his due, he was thorough. However, Laurence is a smart boy. He is intuitive, like me, and he noted his father’s dark mood. Andrew was snappy about wanting to see the television news, terrified, I suppose, that the girl would feature. She did not. He claimed he had the flu and went to bed early. When I went upstairs later, he was throwing things into a suitcase. “What are you doing?”
“I can’t bear it. I have to get away.”
“Where? Where are you going to go? We can’t change anything now. It’s too late.” He turned on me then for the first time, spitting with anger. “It’s all your fault! I’d never have met her if it wasn’t for you. I should never have started this. It was a crazy idea to begin with, but you wouldn’t stop, you were obsessed! You put too much pressure on me. I’m not the type of man to . . .” He trailed off because he was exactly the type of man to strangle a girl, as it happens. He just didn’t know it until now. Also, my plan had been perfect. He was the one who ruined it. “I told you to pick a healthy girl. Didn’t you see the marks on her arms? She was a heroin addict. Don’t you remember that documentary? You must have noticed her arms.” He broke down into sobs and collapsed on the bed, and I cradled his head in mine to muffle the sound. Laurence mustn’t hear. When the heaving of his shoulders had subsided, I upended the contents of the suitcase and put it back on top of the wardrobe. “Put your things away. We are not going anywhere. We will carry on as normal. This is our home and we are a family. Laurence, you, and I.”
Liz Nugent has worked in Irish film, theater, and television for most of her adult life. She is an award-winning writer of radio and television drama and has written critically acclaimed short stories both for children and adults, as well as the bestselling novels Unraveling Oliver and Lying in Wait. She lives in Dublin. Visit her at LizNugent.ie or follow her on Twitter at @Lizzienugent.
“What an extraordinary novel, and what an extraordinary writer. Liz Nugent maps the human mind as a cartographer charts new worlds: She’s boundlessly curious and totally unflinching, with a gimlet eye for the telling detail. Lying in Wait crackles and snaps like a bonfire on a winter’s night; you shudder even as you draw closer to it. Spellbinding.”
– A.J. Finn, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Woman in the Window
“A chilling tale of the sociopathic mind. . . . Readers who love sinister psychological thrillers will tear through these pages to discover how far Lydia will go to keep her son at home, and what accidents will befall those who cross her.”
– Library Journal
“. . . a novel of dark, desperate psychological suspense much in keeping with the pace of her debut, the bestseller Unravelling Oliver. This is a topsy-turvy thrill ride that will make you question the veracity of each character right until the chilling end.”
– Canadian Living
PRAISE FOR UNRAVELING OLIVER
“Outstanding . . . The tension subtly rises as Oliver’s past unravels, revealing a loveless childhood rooted in religious hypocrisy. Nugent presents a fresh look at a man hiding his violent personality in this intense character study.”
– Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Pitch-black and superbly written.”
– Ruth Ware, New York Times bestselling author of IN A DARK, DARK WOOD
"A dark secret life is at the center of Nugent's debut novel. . . . Nugent may be used to spending her life behind the scenes. But she'll be in the foreground for the foreseeable future."
– Publishers Weekly
"[A] page turner . . . vivid."
– Kirkus Reviews
"A gripping and powerful read."
– Literary Hub (lithub.com)
“Secrecy and sadness permeate this rich debut novel . . . readers are skillfully given glimpses of events and of the resulting devastation that Oliver so nonchalantly metes out.”
“Already an award-winning debut in the author’s native Ireland, this will attract fans of domestic suspense . . . readers will eagerly turn the pages all the way to the shocking conclusion.”
– Library Journal
"Each year, a small handful of books are selected as “Buzz Books” at the BookExpo of America conference—a sign that a book . . . has the makings of a hit. This year, Liz Nugent’s Unraveling Oliver is one of those books."