White Lies Deadly Lies is the accomplished 6th crime novel from local author Peter Tickler, which Oxfordshire-based readers will enjoy as much for the familiar setting as for the cleverly told, gripping story.
This is Tickler’s second outing for Doug Mullen, a private investigator who finds himself at the centre of a murderous mystery after an instinctive act of heroism. Mullen is portrayed as a likeable protagonist, albeit with a weakness for damsels in distress, who struggles at times with the moral ambiguity of the eponymous white lies he has to tell for the purpose of uncovering the truth.
The tension born from a decent person who is required to deceive is one of the clever ways in which Tickler examines the traditional tropes of detective stories, another being the question of how much our modern hyper-connectivity affects the suspenseful nature of a whodunnit. A thoroughly contemporary story, where social media and amateur news coverage interacts with and indeed colours the story, the author’s skill is shown by managing to incorporate these elements while retaining enough of the unknown. Despite the contemporary technological update, there are also many recognisable devices for fans of traditional crime fiction.
The structure of the novel jumps around in terms of time and perspective (narrated from the point of view of more than 5 characters), so that the reader is just sufficiently ignorant to keep guessing until the final chapters, when all is revealed. Accompanying this variety of perspectives are lots of seemingly separate story-lines, threads which are neatly woven together throughout the course of the relatively short 200 pages. With an authoritative style, a generous sprinkling of recurring images and clues, and plenty of twists, Tickler demonstrates a talent for building tension. From a few chapters in, the engaging pace of the action meant that I couldn't put the book down until the end.
Balancing out the thrilling moments were some slower, poignant and thought-provoking episodes including a touching portrait of a stroke survivor, and explorations of grief which blurred the boundaries of the ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ categories. Further depth was added by the presence of Mullen’s sidekick, Rex the dog, whom Mullen is looking after while his owner is away.
Overall, the novel proved to be a rewarding adventure with a sufficiently complex plot and a satisfying amount of surprise. If you’re a fan of crime fiction, or are keen to sample the talents of the county’s many guises of artists, then I would urge you not to miss this.