Book Review: Liars’ Paradox by Taylor Stevens
By Allison BrennanDecember 18, 2018
Filled with explosive action, suspense, and powerful human drama, Liars’ Paradox by Taylor Stevens is the first book in the new Jack and Jill Thriller series.
Eighteen months ago, Taylor Stevens told me about her new series, and I told her to send me an ARC when it was ready. Her editor sent it to me last summer, but with five kids and writing three books a year, I didn’t get a chance to read it until October.
I was hooked from page one.
Quiet gentrified neighborhood and a cloud-covered sky at two in the morning, a perfect mix for breaking and entering. Would have been, anyway, if the house itself hadn’t been lit up like an Omani oil field, every window eating shadows from the neighboring yards in the same way flare burn-off stole night from the deep desert dunes. So, he sat in his car three houses down, hidden in the dark beneath a thirty-foot live oak, watching the front door and debating the options, not of them good.
Bringing in a target was so much easier if it could be dead.
I read Liars’ Paradox in one day. I started at my daughter’s softball practice, rushed home when she was done, and read well into the early morning hours. The next day, I sent off this blurb to Taylor’s editor:
Liars’ Paradox is hands-down the best thriller I’ve read this year. Original, cunning, smart, riveting, and relentless; with complex characters, pitch-perfect pacing, and high tension from page one to the end that begs for a movie treatment. Taylor Stevens has catapulted herself to the top of my favorite authors, right up there with Lisa Gardner and Lee Child.
Liars’ Paradox is that good.
It’s fun, violent, fast-paced, and original. The comment, “I couldn’t put the book down,” is somewhat trite because everyone says that about a good thriller. Except, I literally could not put the book down until I read every page.
And I immediately thought, Damn! I wish I’d written that!
From the back cover:
They live in the shadows, Jack and Jill, feuding twins who can never stop running. From earliest memory they’ve been taught to hide, to hunt, to survive. Their prowess is outdone only by Clare, who has always been mentor first and mother second. She trained them in the art of espionage, tested their skills in weaponry, surveillance, and sabotage, and sharpened their minds with nerve-wracking psychological games. As they grew older they came to question her motives, her methods—and her sanity…
Now twenty-six years old, the twins are trying to lead normal lives. But when Clare’s off-the-grid safehouse explodes and she goes missing, they’re forced to believe the unthinkable: Their mother’s paranoid delusions have been real all along. To find her, they’ll need to set aside their differences; to survive, they’ll have to draw on every skill she’s trained them to use. A twisted trail leads from the CIA, to the KGB, to an underground network of global assassins where hunters become the hunted. Everyone, it seems, wants them dead—and, for one of the twins, it’s a threat that’s frighteningly familiar and dangerously close to home…
Liars’ Paradox is finally out in the world, the story of twins trained (more than raised) by their paranoid ex-CIA mother. Taylor nailed character development without sacrificing the action story. This is no easy feat. The smooth melding of showing who Jack, Jill, and their mother Clare really are—alone and together—with high-action bears the mark of an expert. Not only that, but action is much easier to film than to write. You wouldn’t know it when reading this book where tension and stakes drip off every page.
I interviewed Taylor for the January edition of The Big Thrill, the International Thriller Writers monthly e-zine, and specifically asked her about this unusual character-driven action thriller. She said she was interested in exploring family dysfunction, but “in thrillers family is usually a plot device—a wife who’s been kidnapped, or a child to humanize the hero.” Taylor wondered, “What would happen if you took the family dysfunction of mainstream fiction and layered it over a family of assassins in which everyone is quite capable of killing each other and often wants to. I was like, yes, I’ve got to do this.”
Jack is the calm, reasoned twin—perfectly capable of action but wanting a plan first. I think of him as any smart special-ops guy: gather intel, make a plan, execute the plan. Jill is just as smart and deadly, but she’s wild—half of the time she doesn’t really know why she does what she does. Her deep anger at her family coupled with a deep sense of survival and loyalty was brilliantly portrayed. Their sibling rivalry is a notch above most because you really don’t know if they want to hug or kill, the dialogue crisp and punchy.
As Jack says to Jill: “It’s not that I don’t trust you. I just don’t trust you.”
Liars’ Paradox is told from five points of view—Jack, Jill, their mother Clare, Jill’s boyfriend Robert, and Holden. Everyone but Robert has a variety of aliases, but the chapter headings clearly indicate which character we’re dealing with, so the aliases become fun and part of the game—also showing how Jack and Jill can smoothly transition into any role to find the answers they need to locate their missing mother.
Backstory is important to Liars’ Paradox, but in a thriller, weaving in backstory can be difficult—we never want to sacrifice the current story to the past, even when the past informs the present. Taylor seamlessly transitions and only uses flashbacks to highlight a skill or situation that defined one of our characters and is critical to the plot.
For example, near the beginning of the story, Jack and Jill witness the explosion of their mother’s compound in the Texas hill country and find themselves on the run from well-trained men with guns.
Jack—ever prepared—had an escape plan even with the unpredictability of the attack. Jill reflects on this—and the past.
She didn’t need his judgment.
That she cared what he thought made her hate him more.
Sound filtered in through the ventilation shafts.
Outside, somewhere close, the boots tromped through the brush. She could feel each step, dulled by insulation, and knew it was gut instinct and imagination filling in for lack of sight.
She and Jack were feet underground, buried alive under dirt and wild grasses.
They could die here and never be found.
Panic and claustrophobia might have risen had the scenario not already been so familiar. Different year, different country, but she’d been here before.
This was deja vu.
The end of this chapter smoothly segues into the next brief chapter, when Jack and Jill were five years old and living in another country, ordered to stay in a coffin for hours by their mother. This was part of their training and shows so much character in two pages about all three of them, through the eyes of a young girl.
Each flashback scene is brief and subtle even as it hits us hard how these kids were raised. But what we learn from the past informs the present story as well as Jack and Jill’s ability to get out of even the most difficult situations.
Liars’ Paradox takes place in and around Texas, while the flashbacks are snapshots from all over the world. You feel immersed in the story because of deep POV while also feeling like you’re watching an intense high-action movie, right up there with the Bourne Identity or the best Mission Impossible. While most action thrillers have men driving the story, we have a family—mother, son, daughter—and it works amazingly well. So well that I can’t wait for the sequel.