An instant national bestseller from author Catherine McKenzie about what lurks in the wake of tragedy.
One explosion. Three women. Countless secrets.
When Cecily sets off to meet her husband, Tom, in downtown Chicago, she’s unaware of the drastic turn her life is about to take. Before the morning is over, Tom is killed when a building explodes. In the months that follow, a photo of Cecily watching the horrifying scene brings her unwanted attention as the poster child of the tragic event—and she is desperately trying to hide something.
Franny lost her birth mother—Cecily’s best friend—in the destruction shortly after the two met. A year later, she and Cecily team up to help families obtain financial compensation for their losses, but their budding friendship is derailed when it starts to become clear that Franny’s story doesn’t quite add up. How did Franny track down her mother? And why did her mother keep their reunion a secret?
A thousand miles away in Montreal, Kate is trying to create a new life. But why did she leave Chicago in the first place? Can she move on from her mistakes—or will she be pulled back into her old life?
With surprising twists and turns, The Good Liar is a suspenseful read that will make you wonder how far you’d go to hide your own secrets.
The Good Liar CECILY I was late. That’s why I wasn’t there when it happened.
Not in the building, not even that close.
I lost track of time that morning trying to get the kids organized and out the door. It happens sometimes. I’ll have everything under control and then—poof!—an hour will have gone by and we’ve missed whatever deadline we were supposed to hit. School drop-off, a kid’s birthday party, even an airplane once, despite the fact that we were in the terminal with plenty of time to get to our gate before pushback.
None of those misses ever made a permanent difference in my life. Not that I knew of, anyway. Just consternation and an eye roll from the kids. Mo-om being Mom.
Usually, it seemed beyond my control. I could’ve sworn I’d done everything possible to finish whatever needed to get done for me to arrive on time. That day, though . . . that day, I might’ve been late on purpose.
I can admit that now.
But then, my foot tapped at the sticky floor of the train car as if that might make it go faster. I counted down the stops from ten to one, like I was counting down to a rocket launch. And when the “L” finally pulled into the right station, I pushed past the slow, slow crowd and ran for the stairs.
Like Alice in Wonderland’s White Rabbit, I was late, late, late.
My heart throbbed as I ran up the concrete stairs. That’s probably why I didn’t notice the first tremor or the panicked looks on the faces of the people I sprinted past. I was too focused on getting to my destination. When I was finally outside, I had to stop to catch my breath.
What I saw stopped me from breathing at all.
The building I was trying so desperately to get to was two blocks away. The October sun should’ve been glinting off its glass panels. Instead, they were engulfed in flames. Before I could process what was happening, screams swallowed me. It felt like being caught in that noise at the beginning of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”—that discordant, reverse sound that has a basis in something melodic, and yet not.
I remember only bits and pieces after that.
People running past me, my nose filling with the awful stench of burned plastic, the crushing heat. A feeling like the building was sucking in its breath, pulling me toward it, before it blew apart, the heat slamming into me. The ringing in my ears that reminded me of the bell on my son’s bike when he was a child. Paper and debris and things I can’t think about raining down around me, burning holes in the belted coat I’d picked out so carefully the night before, back when it felt like it mattered what I wore that day.
Then I lost the thread of time again. It’s probably only minutes I can’t account for, but if you told me it was hours, I’d have no basis to disprove you.
Through it all, I couldn’t move. I was the lamppost more than one person rammed up against. I stood there, stuck, as the fire licked the building clean. And then a man’s hand was in mine, tugging, tugging, and I could finally hear the instructions he was shouting and had the power to obey.
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The Good Liar Catherine McKenzie Reading Group Guide
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. Few people knew about the impending divorce between Cecily and Tom. What do you think about Cecily’s motives for keeping it a secret?
2. Do you think Cecily’s anger toward Tom even after his death is a way for her to avoid dealing with her grief and feelings of guilt, or is what he did so awful?
3. What would Cecily have to gain or lose by forgiving Tom?
4. Do you think Cecily is right to eventually tell Cassie and Henry about the difficulties in her marriage?
5. Cecily was supposed to be in the building at the time of the explosion but wasn’t. What role do you think fate played in that situation? How might Cecily and other characters have acted at various times if their beliefs about fate or coincidence were different?
6. Cecily feels too guilty about hiding the trouble in her marriage to see that she’s been a hero to many after the tragedy, while Kaitlyn believes herself to be a “bad mother,” even though she’s a good nanny. Why do you think some people have trouble see- ing the good parts of themselves and focus only on their faults?
7. What do you think of Kate/Kaitlyn’s choice to run away from her family?
8. How much regret do you think Kaitlyn has about her actions in life? Do you believe she does love her children? How differently do you think you’d feel about it if the character were a man?
9. Kaitlyn risked exposure by returning to Chicago to save her family from Franny, but then she chose to leave again. Why? Do you think she made the right choice the second time?
10. Why do you think that Franny acts the way she does? What does that reveal about her? What is she hoping to accomplish?
11. Why are people so suspicious of Franny and her motives? What might she have done differently to alleviate those fears?
12. Why do you think Kaitlyn refuses to acknowledge Franny? How much of a role does that play in Franny’s actions, and in Kaitlyn’s own?
13. Has there ever been a time in your life when you were tempted to run away from everything?
Catherine McKenzie’s The Good Liar was a national bestseller. Her previous novels have been translated into multiple languages. A graduate of McGill University, Catherine practices law in Montreal, Quebec, where she was born and raised. Visit her at CatherineMckenzie.com or follow her on Twitter or Instagram @CEMcKenzie1.
“The questions raised . . . accumulate with every plot twist. . . . McKenzie has effected something of a Trojan Horse: The Good Liar is a novel of ideas in the convincing guise of a page-turner.”
– Montreal Gazette
“[McKenzie] builds suspense in steady, page-turning steps all while drawing the reader into the lives of her characters. Recommended.”
– Library Journal
“One of the Best Books of April .”
“One of the 40 Hottest Thrillers of 2018.”
“Secrets and lies swirl on these pages, intermingling with guilt and doubt. For readers who love experiencing one event from multiple perspectives, this is a gripping novel . . . A Spring 2018 Must Read Book.”
“One of the Best Thrillers of Spring 2018.”
“[A] complex, thought-provoking psychological thriller . . . Who the good liar may be, and what that phrase might actually mean, are questions that will resonate long after the book is finished.”
– Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
“Give this to fans of seemingly benign characters with dark inner lives like those in Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies.”
“[McKenzie] specializes in mining people’s inner darkness, particularly the inner darkness of women living superficially happy lives. . . . [her] books coolly imagine what it’s like to doubt your own memories, to be written off as dead, or to watch your own neglected child become a monster.”
– The Globe and Mail
“With twists and turns, the lives of three women intersect in the most unexpected ways during the aftermath of a tragedy. Thought-provoking, suspenseful, and mysterious, The Good Liar is a true page-turner that explores the ways stories are connected and created, and what can be hidden underneath. This is a book you won’t be able to put down!”
– MEGAN MIRANDA, New York Times bestselling author of All the Missing Girls and The Perfect Stranger
“A riveting story. . . . The twists are shocking, the characters are well-drawn but unpredictable, and the conclusion is as poignant as it is surprising. The Good Liar is thrilling, captivating, and not to be missed!”
– KATE MORETTI, New York Times bestselling author of The Vanishing Year and The Blackbird Season
“Catherine McKenzie has done it again . . . In yet another page-turner, three women, linked by trauma, transform from images seen through the camera’s lens into human and relatable characters as their layered lives come into focus. As you settle in for this tense and compelling ride, you’ll start to question who “the good liar” really is—Cecily, Kate, witnesses, the media, friends, family or maybe even Catherine McKenzie herself.”
– EMILY BLEEKER, bestselling author of WRECKAGE and WHEN I'M GONE
"Lines will be crossed and secrets revealed when tragedy intersects three women in The Good Liar, a guilty pleasure you won't be able to put down until the very last page. A Must Read!"
– Liz Fenton & Lisa Steinke, authors of THE GOOD WIDOW
“For many years, Catherine McKenzie has been writing some of the best thrillers around. She's outdone herself with The Good Liar, the powerful and heartbreaking story of the painful aftermath of a national tragedy. It's sharply written with engaging characters and twists and surprises up until the very last page. A smart, fast-paced, and riveting thriller!”
– David Bell, author of Bring Her Home
“In her latest, Catherine McKenzie continues to prove she’s a master at crafting psychological thrillers . . . The story is layered with superb twists and expert pacing, deftly building in suspense until its stunner of an ending. A compulsive read that kept me guessing!”
– Kerry Lonsdale, Wall Street Journal bestselling author of Everything We Left Behind and Everything We Keep
“Catherine McKenzie isn’t just a talented storyteller; she has a knack for asking the questions every woman secretly asks, and answering with a story that expresses our collective dreams and fears . . . Far more than a first-rate page turner; it’s an exploration of the cost of keeping secrets, how the bonds between women both chafe and comfort, and how in the midst of the terror and beauty that is life, we find grace.”
– Allison Leotta, author of The Last Good Girl
“The lives of three women become entangled in a single tragedy. With her compelling characters, whip-smart dialogue and edge-of-your-seat pacing, McKenzie asks how well we know those around us—even the people we love the most.”
– Paula Treick DeBoard, author of Here We Lie and The Drowning Girls
Praise for Smoke
“A fiery, suspenseful story. . . . McKenzie’s fifth novel assesses the flame resistance of bonds shared by family, friends, and community. Pages keep on turning, questions keep on burning, as Smoke wafts up from between the covers to consume readers.”
“McKenzie nimbly delivers believably flawed characters, a plot layered with broken trust, suspense, secrets, and spot-on pacing. Smoke beautifully meshes mystery, complex relationships and a love story that will keep readers turning pages and generate thought-provoking book club discussions.”
– New York Journal of Books
“A deftly crafted novel that is a thoroughly absorbing read from beginning to end, Smoke showcases author Catherine McKenzie's truly impressive storytelling talents. An exceptional entertainment from first page to last, Smoke is very highly recommended for community library General Fiction collections.”
– Midwest book review
“Absorbing mixture of suspense, and inter-personal relationships.”
– Heroes & Heartbreakers, Best bets for October
“Smoke has everything Catherine McKenzie's fans will want from her new novel—beautiful pacing, a thick plot, suspense, characters you'll love, and intricate relationships. In other words, everything that'll keep you turning pages. Set in the Rocky Mountains, where a forest fire threatens to swallow a small town whole, Smoke will feel particularly relevant when you think back to the headlines about the wildfires that burned all summer long.”
“Smoke is an engaging and readable novel for those who enjoy suspenseful women’s fiction.”
“A raging fire in a small town in the northern Rockies deeply affects the lives of two old friends who are no longer speaking: Elizabeth, an arson investigator, and Mindy, whose son is suspected of setting the fire. With a deft, sure hand, Catherine McKenzie explores the complicated and sometimes conflicting ties of friendship and family. Immensely readable and emotionally resonant.”
– CHRISTINA BAKER KLINE, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train
“Coupled with strained relationships and family dynamics, Catherine McKenzie captivates the reader with her fluent writing, which is vivid and evocative, yet effortless to read. Smoke will have readers turning the pages with haste, consumed with burning questions as to how this page-turner ends.”
– MARY KUBICA, bestselling author of The Good Girl and Pretty Baby
“A marvel, a mystery that portrays relationships with subtlety, small town life with precision, and reveals the world of the fire obsessed - for evil and for good. SMOKE smolders with tension, sizzles with intelligence, and you won't put it down until the air has been cleared and the last page turned.”
– ROBIN BLACK, author of Life Drawing
“An exquisitely composed portrait of people in an extreme situation, navigating the metaphorical fires they’ve created and a literal one they need to contain. I fell in love with these shades-of-gray characters and their authentically portrayed need for change and relief. Commercial fiction at its finest.”
– THERESE WALSH, author of The Last Will of Moira Leahy and The Moon Sisters
“Smoke is as hot as the wildfire that serves as the novel’s backdrop. As one couple tries to sort through their issues, temperatures rise until the air is clouded with mistrust, and blame runs amok through an entire community, leaving her characters no choice but to fight for what—and whom—they love. This is domestic drama at its best!”
– KATHRYN CRAFT, author of The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy
“Smoke is a sizzling page-turner with wonderfully flawed and human characters and a riveting plot portraying both the terror and attraction of playing with fire. So engrossing and real it will leave the reader smelling smoke on their clothes, this is Catherine McKenzie’s best book yet.”
– KATHLEEN MCCLEARY, author of Leaving Haven
“McKenzie’s mesmerizing page-turner about a raging forest fire that may—or may not—conceal a crime will keep you up way past bedtime. Part mystery, part roller-coaster read about secrets and trust, and the complexities of marriage and friendship, SMOKE is guaranteed to stimulate lively book club discussion.”
– BARBARA CLAYPOLE WHITE, award-winning author of The In-Between Hour and The Perfect Son
Praise for Hidden
“[A] delicate, honest exploration of secrets, family, and the varied meanings of true love.”
“By giving the perspective, in alternating chapters, of each of the three main characters (…) this novel builds suspense as the reader wonders what really happened. Verdict McKenzie's fourth novel is sure to please her many fans and appeal to readers who enjoy women's fiction with an element of suspense.”
– Library Journal
“[With] a good pace, simple plotting and likable characters . . . Hidden is going to be, like Spin, Forgotten and Arranged before it, an international bestseller.”
– Montreal Gazette
“McKenzie has written a compulsively readable novel about grief and infidelity with great insight and great heart. A truly engaging read.”
– HEIDI DURROW, author of the New York Times bestseller The Girl Who Fell From the Sky
“Catherine McKenzie’s latest book may be her finest. Hidden explores the intersecting lives of a man, his wife, and a woman who may or may not be his mistress. Imaginatively constructed, filled with nail-biting tension and gracefully written, Hidden is a winner.”
– SARAH PEKKANEN, bestselling author of These Girls and Skipping a Beat
“What I love about this deft, intimate novel is that here are no angels or demons here, just adults—husbands, wives, mothers, fathers—leading complex, messy, very human lives. They all struggle to weigh desire against obligation, what they want against what is right. I found myself in the impossible, wonderful position of rooting for all of them—and of missing them when the book was over.”
– MARISA DE LOS SANTOS, bestselling author of Belong to Me and Love Walked In
“Using distinct narrative voices, Catherine McKenzie has crafted a compelling novel that kept me turning pages at a breakneck speed. Heartbreakingly honest and real, Hidden is a wonderfully relatable tale.”
– TRACEY GARVIS GRAVES, New York Times bestselling author of On the Island
“Gripping, smart, beautifully written, Catherine McKenzie's books are always a must read. Hidden should be at the top of your list.”
– ALLIE LARKIN, bestselling author of Stay and Why Can’t I be You
“McKenzie breaks your heart in this story of two grief-stricken women mourning the same man. Hidden’s complex grace and page-turning sympathy left me satisfied through every the last page.”
– RANDY SUSAN MEYERS, bestselling author of The Murderer's Daughters and The Comfort of Lies
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