Four friends travel to Nepal but only two return – ‘The Lie’ by C.L. Taylor (@callytaylor)

Four friends leave for the holiday of a lifetime at an exclusive retreat in Nepal, but only two return. When everything you thought you knew about your friends, their loyalty and their trust is severely tested, how would you react. And how would you handle finding yourself thrust in the spotlight, facing judgment and speculation about what really happened in the few weeks that changed your life forever, claiming the life of your best friend.

Jane Hughes has a secret. A bloody great big one by all accounts. For one thing, she isn’t really Janes Hughes. Before she moved to Bude and before she got a job at Green Fields Animal Shelter, Jane Hughes did not exist. Before she was Emma Woolfe, unlucky in love and ruled by the expectations of her mother and her friends. Now, as Jane, she has an adoring partner, a job she loves and everything to lose by her past being exposed. It’s not that she ever did anything wrong, but as lies go, the one she is telling, the secret she is keeping, is about as big as they come. But someone, somewhere is determined to see the truth come out, and for Jane to pay for the sins of the past.

‘The Lie’ is an extremely well-crafted and tense psychological tale. Exploring the fragile relationship of Jane/Emma and her inner circle of friends, the story hones in fully on the sometimes toxic world of all female friendships, the side that is more ‘Mean Girls’ than ‘Spice Girls’ where girl power gives way to jealousy and power play games as each person feeds on the negativity and weakness of the next. In this particular group of friends out protagonist, Emma, is the weak link. Afraid to upset her friends, undermined and ridiculed by her supposed best friend Daisy and side-lined by Leanne at every possible turn, she is someone for whom reinventing themselves would be no bad thing, if only it hadn’t come at such a high cost.

The central theme of the story is about what happened at this retreat in Nepal, a kind of pseudo-cult run which nobody ever leaves, at least not through choice. Emma is immediately suspicious of the place but manipulated by her friends into staying, used and then ostracised by the ‘leader, Isaac, and subjected to all kinds of abuse from her so-called friends. The story is told from Emma’s point of view as is set in both the past in Nepal and the present day in Wales, where Emma/Jane is now being tormented by someone who knows her real identity and seems to know the truth of what really happened on the mountain.

The creation of setting and character is key in a novel like this and Taylor has both just right. Emma is a likeable character, well-meaning if a little over emotional and easily ruled by others, and the character of Daisy is deliciously cruel in the way in which she treats Emma. There is something in her make up from the word go that leads the reader on, sensing the gradual decline of her mind and the build to the final dramatic conclusion with Emma. Leanne is manipulative and sly, slowly undermining the relationship between Daisy and Emma, poisoning their group and widening the fissures in an already fractured friendship.

It is true that the action is faster paced and perhaps a little more edgy in the Nepal setting than in present day Wales, as the threat and danger is ever present for Emma, and in a secluded retreat in a country so far from home, she has far more to fear than she has in Wales where she can perhaps walk into any police station to report her stalker. That said, the beauty in the present setting is the creation of the intriguing set of suspects as to who could be trying to expose Emma/Jane and to what end.

This was a fast paced book which really drew me along and I read it in one evening. True, the ending did seem a little too simple perhaps, and after everything Jane had been through, you kind of think she would have known better, but then who are we to judge how a person will react in a given circumstance. In truth, nobody knows until faced with it themselves. Everyone likes to think they won’t be sucked in by the lies of a cult and yet many people still fall foul, every single day.

This is much more than just a book about a bunch of naive young women and a cult though. It is a really well observed look at the female in their natural environs. We all speak of equality, of the strength of female bonding, and yet just on one careless word one disagreement, we have the capacity to hate and excommunicate on a whim. To quote from Willian Congreve, ‘Heav’n has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor Hell a fury, like a woman scorn’d’. Anyone who thinks otherwise is telling themselves a big fat lie.

A tense and dramatic 5 stars.