Book Review: Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson
In the summer of 1995, nine friends enter a manor in the English countryside, but only seven leave the next day. Two deaths, one axe, and seven potential suspects. In the end, the crime lacks evidence, the police stop looking and no one is ever charged for the murders. The story seemingly ends there – a case gone cold. That is, until Stevie Bell arrives in London years later and is enlisted to find out what actually happened that night. With that, the real story begins in Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson, the latest in the Stevie Bell sleuth series.
Johnson begins by painting a picture of The Nine – the Cambridge comedy group comprised of nine best friends – who travel out to Merryweather country manor for one last hurrah. There is an air of excitement when they arrive, and the champagne starts to flow almost immediately as the festivities commence. However, not everyone is that keen to celebrate. One member of the group is holding in a secret of deafening weight, which would have dire implications if revealed.
“Over the years, these words would replay in Angela’s head. If only she had pulled Rosie back into that bedroom, waited a few more minutes to go downstairs, sat her back down on the wet bedspread and made her explain. If only she’d listened to her gut for once, maybe things wouldn’t have happened the way they did. Her life – all their lives – would have been different.”
The Nine assemble, and their champagne-fueled game of hide and seek begins. The group disperses across the grounds of the manor, all the while a treacherous storm is wreaking havoc on the countryside. The next morning, heavily laden with hangovers, they realize that two of their own are still missing. A search uncovers something they would have never imagined.
“He examined his fingers. They were streaked with blood. He touched his cheek again, feeling for a cut, but there was none there. The blood was coming from nowhere.
‘I’m not cut,’ he said. ‘Where’s this come from?’
Then he noticed it. The thing on the floor, near the woodpile. At first, he thought it was a log. But then he saw that this particular log seemed to be wearing a Wellington boot.”
Shifting between narratives, Johnson brings us back to our heroine, Stevie Bell – the young aspiring detective who happens to have made her way to London for a study abroad program. Stevie is a student at Ellingham Academy in Vermont, although rather than preparing for college like her classmates, case after case pulls her into the world of homicide. Upon arrival in London, Stevie is approached to dig up the past and uncover the truth buried at Merryweather years ago. While hesitant at first, she is convinced fairly quickly that her trip to London now has one goal: solve this mystery.
“As she winked out of consciousness, Stevie caught the tail end of a realization. She knew the emotion she’d seen playing over Angela’s features as she’d been telling her story. It wasn’t sadness about what had happened, or annoyance that she was being prodded to tell a traumatic story to a bunch of strange teenagers in her house.
It was fear.”
After agreeing to investigate the Merryweather murders, Stevie’s trip becomes a swirl of faces and places – some past and some present, as she works to reconstruct the night of the deaths. Which of The Nine is lying? Or is it all of them? From the Tower of London and wives of Henry VIII to Oasis vs. Blur in the Battle of Britpop, Johnson has the reader travel through time to close this case. I can confidently say that after reading this, I am now an avid follower of the Stevie Bell mysteries. Nine Liars by Maureen Johnson is an altogether great read that will keep you on your toes, while also allowing for the frequent laugh.