Release date: June 9, 2020 (originally set for August 18, 2020)
★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ (8/10)
SPOILER-FREE REVIEW: Three Perfect Liars is a mystery/thriller novel that was originally set to be released in America in its hardcover/ebook edition on August 18, 2020 (but was released early in June). It was written by Heidi Perks, best known for her previous novels like Her One Mistake (2018), Beneath the Surface (2016), and Come Back for Me (2019). The publisher writes that Three Perfect Liars is “a riveting new suspense novel about three ambitious women whose lives are turned upside down in the aftermath of a horrifying fire, which destroys a successful advertising agency and threatens to expose a tangled web of lies.”
PLOT RUNDOWN/BASICS: Laura is a very driven businesswoman, who recently had her first son. Only six months into her maternity leave, she’s decided to return to work as a marketing executive at the successful agency Morris & Wood. She’s the only female executive there, and she’s eager to get back to work and prove herself to be just as invaluable to the team as she was before…but she’s shocked to return and see that her temporary replacement, Mia, has been made permanent. Not only is Mia staying on as a director, but she was also given Laura’s best client, for keeps – despite the years of hard work and commitment Laura spent building that specific brand. This sends Laura on an obsessive downward spiral, determined to prove Mia’s betrayal and ulterior motives – even if it costs her everything.
Mia is thrilled to have been added to Morris & Wood’s executive team as only the second female director, right behind Laura, whom she has been filling in for the past six months. She’s not shocked to learn that Laura is furious Mia is staying on; after all, Mia had insisted in her interview that she only wanted the job temporarily and might be leaving the town behind when Laura returned. Only Mia knows why she so desperately needs to keep this job and stay on at the company…but Laura has developed an unhealthy and obsessive desire to find out why, and Mia is worried that she’ll succeed and ruin her plans.
Perks writes each woman in such a way that her own story and concerns are very relatable. They all have people depending on them, and they feel incredible pressure from all sides of their lives to do what is right.”
Janie is the wife of Harry Wood, who’d chosen to build the huge glass offices of Morris & Wood five years earlier overlooking the Lymington River. Janie and their two young daughters had agreed to move down there from London once it was done – both for the more relaxed coastal lifestyle, and also to get away from Janie’s previous role as a defense barrister. In her years of work, Janie had put in incredibly long hours to defend men against charges of sexual assault and rape, among other things…and after a particularly terrible case, with a personal and lasting consequence, she’d been more than ready to walk away. But her relationship with Harry has slowly grown more distant over the past five years, and Jane is becoming dissatisfied with the direction her life has taken…and concerned with a mysterious figure who appears to be stalking her when she alone can see them.
All three women’s lives intersect in ways that will have lasting consequences – not just for themselves, but for everyone they know. Lies will be told, secrets will be spilled, and revenge will be had…but who is responsible for what? And will justice be done to right the wrongs they seek to avenge?
MY THOUGHTS: This was my first novel by Perks, but I do have Her One Mistake on my TBR bookshelf, and now I’m pleased to know I’ll likely enjoy that one. I sped through this book fairly quickly; it’s told from the viewpoints of three of the main characters (and thus the three main suspects in the fire), Laura, Mia, and Janie. In addition to alternating narrator viewpoints per chapter, Perks also uses brief snippets of police interviews to break up the narrative and increase the intrigue about what led up to the crime.
I found this book very reminiscent of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, where we know at least 50% of the ending from the start – a.k.a., there was a fire that destroyed Harry’s business, and one or more people were badly injured – but we don’t know who did it or why, and we hear each character’s perspective firsthand. The book covers the 8 weeks leading up to the fire, and it’s slowly revealed in the police interviews how each woman was chosen as a suspect and who was hurt/injured in the crimes. These discussions between the police and the other employees at Morris and Wood also give us a unique outside perspective on the women’s relationships and interactions.
As we see in the preceding months, Laura, Mia, and Janie ALL had their own unique motives to start the fire and hurt Harry’s business – but did one of them, and if so, which one? (We also know from the prologue, told from the unnamed narrator’s perspective on the night of the fire, that she did not intend to harm anyone and was horrified to learn that someone had been in the building when the fire was set.)
Everything is not always perfect, nor is it meant to be, and the consequences of this juggling act become even more precarious when we feel like we have to lie and pretend that everything is okay – to our partners, our friends, or the world itself.”
Perks writes each woman in such a way that her own story and concerns are very relatable. They all have people depending on them, and they feel incredible pressure from all sides of their lives to do what is right. Laura is a new mom going back to a very high-powered career only 6 months after her child is born (standard maternity leave in the UK is one year); she is concerned with disappointing her husband and son, and we see the disastrous way her ambition and her new motherhood clash. Mia feels responsible for both her sister and her mother, and her own murky motives for taking over Laura’s job reveal her true ambitions. And Janie gave up her demanding career for reasons both big and small, but home life is a hard adjustment for her, and her complicated relationship with Harry makes it feel even more restless and unfulfilling.
One of the overarching themes of the novel is the never-ending quest for perfection, and the idea that “having it all” as a mother with a career is not exactly what we might dream it to be. As Perks writes at one point, “Quite frankly Janie had already realized that no one should have ever promised women they could have it all, because they couldn’t, and the realization of it only made them feel like they were failing. The idea was laughable really.” The same was true for Laura; as she starts drowning in her own career expectations, we learn, “She had never expected to feel so desperate and vulnerable, and as she peered at her beautiful son, she hated that Chrissie and the other parent group mums were right. She couldn’t have everything, and she no longer knew what to sacrifice. All she did know was that she definitely wasn’t happy.”
This book touches on the themes of ambition versus family, and how the delicate balance between career and our closest relationships can be upset when we face the very real challenges life throws at us. Everything is not always perfect, nor is it meant to be, and the consequences of this juggling act become even more precarious when we feel like we have to lie and pretend that everything is okay – to our partners, our friends, or the world itself. This also affects our ability to develop close and “real” friendships with other women, both acquaintances and colleagues – who may seem to be competing with us for our own personal slice of the pie, when really they’re just trying to carve out their own in a space that needs to expand to include more driven female energy.
There is also plenty of references to the #MeToo era of workplace harassment and bullying, particularly to women. We see the very real and lasting consequences of rape and sexual harassment, sometimes brutally so; we also see how men who have been allowed to repeatedly commit these offenses can be brazenly rewarded for their success in the business world, even as they use their power to take advantage of their subordinates. Perks lets us know that you don’t have to be the man acting this way to participate in this type of culture; not speaking up or investigating claims, and refusing to acknowledge that something as simple as referring to all of the women in the office as “girls,” is enough to keep this type of culture pervasive and cause irreparable harm.