Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Moreish Blend of Humour and Suspense, Kept Fresh With Chilled Spines

The Liar and Other Stories by Matthew W. McFarland is a collection of six short stories. 


The first is "The Liar". 

First sentence: "In the past twenty-four hours, I have convinced various people that I am a fireman, that I make my own shoes, that I am a qualified pilot, that my middle name is Wenceslas, and that I have an inoperable brain tumour."

This story centres around (fairly obviously) an obsessive liar- though his lying isn't compulsive (according to his shrink), he just really enjoys it.

Today he is a businessman, and heading for the office of a corporate hot-shot. But is he really so free of reason? Who is the man of a million faces?

The next story is "Hospital".

First sentence: "There is a UFO outside the children's hospital, a huge, mirror-plated disc thirty feet across set at an angle on top of several pylons."

Four-year-old Sam had a bad experience, that left the young boy with a fear of blood tests. He is so afraid of them, that he won't complain unless the pain is too extreme. So when he says he has a sore back, they know it's serious. 

Told from the point of view of what I can only assume is his father, we get the adventures of Sam, going through the many hospital processes and the medical staff, with his parents getting more and more stressed as time passes. What could possibly be wrong with their little boy?

The third story is "Making Headlines".

First sentence: "The girl lay face down on the lawn, one bare foot nestled in the dark soil of a flowerbed."

Told from the point of view of her deadpan killer, we get flashbacks to the night before, when she died. Kathy Rogers was a local celebrity. An actress who was just hitting her streak, heading for the top. But she wanted more, she wanted the world to know her name. Someone should have told her to be careful what you wish for. 

Next is "The Savant".

First sentence: "No-one had ever called Hector Gutierrez smart."

Hector is a regular Average-Joe. He works in construction with his two brothers, until (on their way to work one day) the three of them are involved in a collision. Hector wakes up in hospital, with a new talent. One he's not sure what to do with.

The penultimate story is "Ripples".

First sentence: "'Let me help,' said the old man, standing up from his seat."

Anne is running. Running from a night she'll never forget. She gets on the first train she can, and meets the curious Stanley. Slowly she opens up, and tells him what horrors she witnessed the night before. 

The final story is "Toxic Love".

First sentence: "My wife of close to twenty years is slowly poisoning me, of this I am certain."

A man with an overbearing wife, believes she is slowly killing him, slipping something into every meal and snack she prepares for him. He is forbidden from cooking, and is struggling with the concept of her betrayal. All the tiny, insignificant hints he's found, have piled up into one obvious big slap on the face. A wake-up call.

He needs to know why? Who can he go to? What can he do? How did it come to this?

The story then switches to his wife's POV, before ending on their teenage son's. The revelations that come with each change seem to be vying for which can be the most extreme. How well do you know the people in your life?


McFarland is great at writing seemingly innocuous stories, that end up chilling and unnerving. He's very good at building tension and suspense, though sometimes tricking the reader with an unexpected plot twist or change of atmosphere. 

I reviewed his first collection, "50/50" and (though it still contains my favourite stories from him) these contain the same charm and enjoyability. 

My favourites are "Ripples" (which I could see making a great thriller- if only). There are some unexplained elements, but the power of imagination fills in the gaps and makes it more sinister. And "Toxic Love", which is a dark, twisted story, with almost comical switches in POV. Changing between the views- with their different levels of awareness- is somehow both humorous and unsettling. The characters are all very focused on the negative. During the story, I found myself imagining the cast singing Frank Sinatra's "My Way" in my head. "Regrets, I've had a few.."

My favourite character would probably be Arthur (if that is his real name) from "The Liar". A con-man, who makes charm his business, he comes across as very likeable, funny and a little insane. There's no doubt he's unstable, but that just adds to his psychotic energy, and sucks you right in.


An entertaining, short collection that fans of his previous book will no doubt enjoy. His writing style and immersive stories will have you reaching for that one too.

Disclaimer: I received this book from the author. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.

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