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The Lie by Petra Hammesfahr
‘Suzanne Lasko struggles to survive living in a dump in which she cannot pay the rent on time ever since her marriage ended and her teller job terminated for her inability to perform simple tasks. Apparently her mind never fully healed from a car accident several years ago. Her ailing mom lives in a home, so Suzanne who loves her makes up a life with a good paying job and a kind boyfriend. Desperately she does the unthinkable and uses her mom’s money to pay her bills. - Genre Go Around
Suzanne arrives at Behringer and partners for an interview. There she runs into her almost identical twin Nadia Trenkler though they are not related as far as either woman knows. Wealthy Nadia hires Suzanne to pose as her with her husband Michael for the weekend while she runs off for a tryst. Their first switch is successful so they do it again and again although Michael suspects something is not quite right with his wife.
The concept of twins switching identities is common in movies and books and this latest tale is an adult modernization of the Prince and The Pauper. Suzanne makes the tale with her bewildered mind and abject poverty impeding her fitting in the luxurious lifestyle of Nadia. Although plausibility is somewhat lost due to Michael’s actions and reactions and the too frequent switches, readers will enjoy this intriguing psychological suspense thriller.’
‘Imagine for a moment that you have no money, no job and no prospects when you meet someone who could be your double. This twin version has everything you don’t: a huge bank account, a luxury villa, a flashy sports car, and a loving, attractive husband. What would you do if your double offered to pay you to trade lives for a few days?….
This is exactly the scenario in German author Petra Hammesfahr’s thriller The Lie. Down-on-her-luck, Susanne Lasko is applying for yet another job when she finds herself face to face with a woman who could be her twin:
“In her external appearance the young woman who suddenly appeared before her was not identical with her. She was her height and had her figure, her eyes, her mouth. And it was her face—but with perfect makeup and framed by fashionably styled hair. The woman’s hair was a rich brown and considerably shorter than the sun-bleached mop coming down to her shoulders. Her double was wearing a light-grey, pinstripe suit with a white blouse.”
The similarities between the two women serve to highlight Susanne’s shabbiness; her old clothes have seen better days, and she’s badly in need of a haircut. On top of that, the other woman, Nadia Trenkler, is expensively dressed complete with designer accessories. Nadia seems to want to make Susanne’s acquaintance. Is she motivated by charity, friendship or something more sinister?
Peculiar things begin to happen in Susanne’s life. Someone appears to be following her, and then she discovers her apartment is bugged. In the meantime, an uneasy relationship is forged between the two women, Nadia and Susanne, and while they look alike, their characters are complete opposites. In a short time, Nadia suggests that Susanne can make some easy money by changing places with her one weekend. Nadia uses the excuse of needing time with a lover, and Susanne, who’s been slowly siphoning money from her mother’s bank account, and who has no other options for making money, agrees.
Of course, if you take one poor woman and place her in the affluent, comfortable life of a much wealthier woman, who’s to say that the poor woman will want to return to her old life. What if she likes the new wealthy life she’s managed to taste for just a few days?
The Lie is really quite intriguing. The novel strained credulity at times as Susanne is remade in Nadia in order to buy Nadia the freedom to enjoy her dirty weekend. After all, it takes more than a hair cut, a sun tan and some fancy new clothes to be able to successfully impersonate someone else, and I was not entirely convinced that Susanne could acceptably impersonate Nadia when the chips were down. Nadia is, after all, a primo bitch–self-confident, self-assured and used to getting her own way. Susanne, in contrast, is a bit of a disaster waiting to happen–as evidenced by her history of employment, frequent headaches, and lack of confidence.
That complaint aside, if you are willing to suspend your disbelief and buy the swap between Nadia and Susanne, then it’s incredibly easy to be swept up by the story. It’s perfectly clear to the reader that Nadia is up to something more than an illicit weekend, but Susanne who has no other options for making money, buys the story. And while Nadia is supposedly off sporting with her lover, this leaves Susanne alone with Nadia’s rather neglected husband. And of course, the expected happens…
The Lie can be classified as a psychological thriller, and apart from the mystery afoot, the novel includes some observations about the behaviour of the wealthy when contrasted to the behaviour of those used to the hard knocks of life. Nadia fully expects to buy Susanne, and Susanne finds herself wondering what life would have been like for her if she’d been cocooned and propelled by money and influence. While Nadia has a great deal of confidence that her schemes will work, Susanne is interested in protecting herself if something goes wrong.
It’s exciting to see several small independent publishers marketing books in translation. German author Petra Hammesfahr’s novel The Lie, translated by Mike Mitchell, is from Bitter Lemon Press.’ - MostlyFiction Reviews
‘In The Lie, two women who are virtually identical chance to meet. Suzanne is living on the edge of poverty, desperate for a job. After meeting Nadia, a woman who could be her twin, she’s offered a daring and lucrative proposition: act as Nadia’s double for a weekend. Suzanne will have to fool Nadia’s estranged husband while Nadia is with her lover. The deception soon becomes more than either woman bargained for.
Petra Hammesfahr’s adept characterization makes this seemingly straightforward deception an intense psychological thriller. The characters’ motivations are obscured not only from each other but from the reader as well. This aspect of the book is quite engaging; as the story unfolds, the reader must draw her own conclusions regarding the true intent of the characters. Unfortunately, the writing style is not smooth, making the complicated layers of plot hard to follow at times. Also, the story drags in a few places, so investment in the characters is vital to enjoying the book. However, readers drawn to psychological thrillers and multi-dimensional characters will not be disappointed in The Lie. The unforeseen consequences of a daring deception make a fantastic backdrop, showcasing Hammesfahr’s talent for psychological intrigue.’ - Sacramento Book Review
‘Unemployed and reduced to stealing from her mother’s savings, Susanne is desperate for a job, and when her best hope ends in rejection, she thinks all is lost. But that same day, she runs into a woman, Nadia, who uncannily resembles her in every way, except that she has all the money Susanne so desperately needs. Nadia contacts Susanne, and the lonely woman accepts Nadia’s offers of coffee and secondhand clothes; later, when Nadia asks her to spend a weekend with her husband so Nadia can be with her lover, Susanne can’t refuse the generous amount of money Nadia offers. One weekend soons turns into another as the lies and deception multiply. Gripping, fast paced, and laced with an impending sense of doom, the novel proves once again that German author Hammesfahr (The Sinner, 2008) is a master of the psychological thriller. Those who read The Sinner will be thrilled with another high-quality offering; those new to Hammesfahr will soon understand her popularity in Germany.’ - Booklist
‘Is the connection between a husband and a wife about physical appearance, some mystical and romantic recognition of souls, or merely the day-to-day routines that form habit and convenience? Such high-brow philosophy is not usually at the top of Susanne Lasko's thought processes. She's not stupid; it's just that on one momentous day, her primary concerns revolve around her hopes to do well at a job interview. Instead, she gets thrown into the strangest of modern prince-and-the-pauper situations when she meets a woman with her face, a woman far more interested in her than she is in anything this woman, this Nadia Trenkler, can offer her.
THE LIE quickly develops beyond the potential predictability of its initial set up and forces the reader to plunge into layers of intrigue that are well-worth unraveling.’ - Fresh Fiction
‘A twin-swapping scheme propels this exceptional suspense novel from German bestseller Hammesfahr (The Sinner). After meeting Susanne Lasko, a desperate, unemployed divorcée, by chance, Nadia Trenkler, a stylish Berlin investment counselor, hires Susanne, whom she closely resembles, to spend the weekend with her husband, with whom she barely interacts and who will be busy with his own work, so she can conduct an out-of-town affair. Of course, a lot more is going on than Susanne realizes. For one thing, Marcus Zurkeulen, a shady investor Nadia has been tricking, wants the money she stole from him. When the devious Nadia disappears, Susanne continues the deception with scary results. Hammesfahr does a superbjob portraying Susanne’s fearful descent into another woman’s life. Full of clever and disturbing twists, this dark delight will please Patricia Highsmith fans. - Publishers Weekly
‘The contemporary German novels I’ve read in the last few years haven’t impressed me much, but Petra Hammesfahr’s The Lie was blissfully removed from much of the aggressively arty posing of Deutsch letters. Apart from its far-fetched initial premise, that a woman bumps into her double, a double so perfect she can fool her husband, the story is extremely clever, twisty and elegantly written. High-class crime, like P.D. James.’ Tibor Fischer, author of Good to be God - Standpoint Magazine
‘Petra Hammesfahr has written more than twenty crime and suspense novels and has been dubbed Germany’s answer to Patricia Highsmith. The storyline is gripping and the writing superb. Much credit should also go to the able translation by Mike Mitchell. Nadia and Susanne look uncannily alike but while Nadia is very rich, Susanne is destitute. Nadia makes Susanne an offer that she can’t refuse, namely that in return for a handsome payment, she should spend the weekend with Nadia’s husband so that Nadia can sneak off with her lover. Nadia sells the idea to Susanne as a low risk option, claiming that she and her husband are on distant and unhappy terms. The first weekend works out much as predicted but then the occasions multiply, as do the lies and subterfuges and, of course; all is not as it seems anyway. The tangled web becomes a deadly snare and eventually one of the ladies perishes. I won’t spoil this excellent plot by saying any more except that I highly recommend this exciting novel.‘ - ReFresh
‘From time to time a crime writer embarks on the Doppelganger story, where one character sets about impersonating another. Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar is probably the classic but this sub-genre is rarely successful, chiefly because of the difficulty in convincing the reader that one human being can sufficiently resemble another to be accepted by the closest of friends and family.
The German novelist Petra Hammesfahr is courageous in tackling this theme, with the story of two women so physically alike that, after some coaching, jobless and down-at-heel Susanne can pass for rich and beautifully groomed Nadia. After another unsuccessful job interview, Susanne, who has illegally withdrawn money from her mother's account to survive, is attracted by Nadia's proposition. To enable Nadia to meet her lover from time to time, she should take her place at home, even sharing Nadia's husband's bed.
Hammesfahr makes this story, preposterous in outline, work with great success, largely through the quality of her writing which, in Mike Mitchell's translation, tells a compelling tale. She exploits the genre's great imaginative opportunity: the chance to step into a different life, the subject of so many human fantasies. Nadia's world, with its Porsches and Mercedes, indoor swimming-pool and designer clothing, is utterly seductive to Susanne. Unfortunately, so too is Nadia's husband, Michael. Their emotional history is played out against the background of criminality into which Nadia has plunged Susanne. For the source of Nadia's wealth has involved her with dangerous and vengeful characters. Susanne must discover who to trust in her new world.
The narrative moves at such a pace that one seldom has time to question its authenticity, with the contrasting worlds of Susanne's grotty flat and Nadia's glamorous villa so convincingly described that one shares Susanne's belief that she must try to carry the deception off. Whether she will succeed keeps the reader, peering over Susanne's shoulder at all the traps, turning the pages of this remarkable book.’ - Independent
'THE LIE is an "identical twins" thriller, though the two women concerned, Suzanne Lasko and Nadia Trenkler, are apparently not related. Suzanne is down on her luck - her marriage has failed, she's lost her job as a bank teller due to confusion she experiences after a years-ago car accident, and is living in a meagre apartment for which she has trouble finding the rent. She's close to her mother, who is ailing and now lives in a home, and for the old lady's pleasure she makes up an interesting life for herself in which she has a good job and a boyfriend (in reality an odious, sexually abusive neighbour).
Suzanne is eventually reduced to dipping into her mother's nest egg to pay her rent despite the many job applications she fills out, so she's relieved when she finally scores an interview at the firm of Behringer and partners. While in the building, she briefly encounters a very smart woman who could be her double. The interview goes well and Suzanne feels confident about being offered the job, so is devastated when she is rejected. Enter Nadia, the rich double who sees an opportunity in the fortuitous likeness, who pays the desperate Suzanne to stand in for her with her husband for a weekend while she goes off for a fling with her lover. The premise is not new, but is given interest and depth by the character and life of Suzanne. At this stage I was intrigued to continue with the novel. I'm afraid that I then rather rapidly lost interest, as what transpires is a mish-mash of "lives of the rich and famous" told at the level of a mediocre TV movie or magazine-inspired romance, together with some casually described scientific research aspects and financial manoeuvres. The two women swap identities again and again; Michael (Nadia's husband) veers between illogical positions; and the constant shifting of suspicions is confusingly superficial - is Nadia really having an affair, or is she conducting a financial scam - and who are the mysterious hit men she's apparently involved with?
Somewhere in all this there is a good little psychological thriller struggling to get out, but unfortunately, for me it never does. If the novel had been revised (again) and shortened before publication, ironing out some of the inconsistencies and cutting some of the to-ing and fro-ing between Suzanne, Michael, Nadia and various bit-part scientists, neighbours, business associates and cardboard villains, the result would have been more focused and involving. Suzanne is the only character with life or depth, and the aspects of the plot concerning her non-Nadia life are the most interesting.
Petra Hammesfahr has written many novels, only one other of which has been translated into English (at time of writing this review). That novel, THE SINNER, is a dark and excellent journey into the depths of the human soul; it is in a different league from THE LIE and in my opinion a much better demonstration of this author's talents.' - Eurocrime
‘Hammesfahr is gripping, full of psychological insight, and one of Germany’s most successful writers.’ - Literary Review