From the New York Times and #1 Globe and Mail bestselling author of blockbuster thrillers The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood comes a chilling new novel of friendship, secrets, and the dangerous games teenaged girls play.
“I need you.” Three small words that change everything.
Isa Wilde knows something terrible has happened when she receives this text from an old friend. Why else would Kate summon her and their two friends Thea and Fatima to the seaside town where they briefly attended school together seventeen years ago?
The four friends first met at Salten House boarding school, where they quickly bonded over The Lying Game, a risky contest that involved tricking fellow boarders and faculty with their lies. But the game had consequences, and the girls were eventually expelled after Kate’s dad, their beloved art teacher, mysteriously disappeared. Forever bound by their lies but needing to forget their past, they went their separate ways—Kate remaining in Salten while the other three left to start new lives in and around London.
Now reunited, Isa, Kate, Thea, and Fatima discover that their past lies had far-reaching effects and criminal implications that threaten them all. In order to protect their reputations, and their friendship, they must uncover the truth about what really happened all those years ago.
Atmospheric, twisty, with just the right amount of chill, The Lying Game will have readers at the edge of their seats, not knowing who can be trusted in this tangled web of lies.
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Read an Excerpt
The Lying Game
I’m coming!” I shout it up the stairs, as Owen calls something down above Freya’s sleepy squawking cries.
When I get up to the bedroom he’s holding her, pacing back and forth, his face still pink and crumpled from the pillow.
“Sorry,” he says, stifling a yawn. “I tried to calm her down but she wasn’t having any of it. You know what she’s like when she’s hungry.”
I crawl onto the bed and scoot backwards into the pillows until I’m sitting against the headboard, and Owen hands me a red-faced, indignant Freya who takes one affronted look up at me and then lunges for my breast with a little grunt of satisfaction.
All is quiet, except for her greedy suckling. Owen yawns again, ruffles his hair, and looks at the clock, and then begins pulling on his underwear.
“Are you getting up?” I ask in surprise. He nods.
“I might as well. No point in going back to sleep when I’ve got to get up at seven anyway. Bloody Mondays.”
I look at the clock. Six a.m. It’s later than I thought. I must have been pacing the kitchen for longer than I realized.
“What were you doing up, anyway?” he asks. “Did the bin lorry wake you?”
I shake my head.
“No, I just couldn’t sleep.”
A lie. I’d almost forgotten how they feel on my tongue, slick and sickening. I feel the hard, warm bump of my phone in my dressing gown pocket. I’m waiting for it to vibrate.
“Fair enough.” He suppresses another yawn and buttons up his shirt. “Want a coffee, if I put one on?”
“Yeah, sure,” I say. Then, just as he’s leaving the room, “Owen—”
But he’s already gone and he doesn’t hear me.
Ten minutes later he comes back with the coffee, and this time I’ve had time to practice my lines, work out what I’m going to say, and the semi-casual way I’m going to say it. Still I swallow and lick my lips, dry-mouthed with nerves.
“Owen, I got a text from Kate yesterday.”
“Kate from work?” He puts the coffee down with a little bump, it slops slightly, and I use the sleeve of my dressing gown to mop the puddle, protecting my book, giving me time to reply.
“No, Kate Atagon. You know, I went to school with her?”
“Oh, that Kate. The one who brought her dog to that wedding we went to?”
“That’s right. Shadow.”
I think of him. Shadow—a white German shepherd with a black muzzle and soot-speckled back. I think of the way he stands in the doorway, growls at strangers, rolls his snowy belly up to those he loves.
“So . . . ?” Owen prods, and I realize I’ve stopped talking, lost my thread.
“Oh, right. So she’s invited me to come and stay, and I thought I might go.”
“Sounds like a nice idea. When would you go?”
“Like . . . now. She’s invited me now.”
“I’d take her.”
Of course, I nearly add, but I don’t. Freya has never taken a bottle, in spite of a lot of trying on my part, and Owen’s. The one night I went out for a party, she screamed solidly from 7:30 p.m. to 11:58, when I burst through the doors of the flat to snatch her out of Owen’s limp, exhausted arms.
There’s another silence. Freya leans her head back, watching me with a small frown, and then gives a quiet belch and returns to the serious business of getting fed. I can see thoughts flitting across Owen’s face . . . That he’ll miss us . . . That he’ll have the bed all to himself . . . Lie-ins . . .
“I could get on with decorating the nursery,” he says at last. I nod, although this is the continuation of a long discussion between the two of us—Owen would like the bedroom, and me, back to himself and thinks that Freya will be going into her own room imminently, when she turns six months. I . . . don’t. Which is partly why I’ve not found the time to clear the guest room of all our clutter and repaint it in baby-friendly colors.
“Sure,” I say.
“Well, go for it, I reckon,” Owen says at last. He turns away and begins sorting through his ties. “Do you want the car?” he asks over his shoulder.
“No, it’s fine. I’ll take the train. Kate will pick me up from the station.”
“Are you sure? You won’t want to be lugging all Freya’s stuff on the train, will you? Is this straight?”
“What?” For a minute I’m not sure what he’s on about, and then I realize—the tie. “Oh, yes, it’s straight. No, honestly, I’m happy to take the train. It’ll be easier; I can feed Freya if she wakes up. I’ll just put all her stuff in the bottom of the pram.” He doesn’t respond, and I realize he’s already running through the day ahead, ticking things off a mental checklist just as I used to do a few months ago—only it feels like a different life. “Okay, well, look, I might leave today if that’s all right with you.”
“Today?” He scoops his change off the chest of drawers and puts it in his pocket, and then comes over to kiss me good-bye on the top of my head. “What’s the hurry?”
“No hurry,” I lie. I feel my cheeks flush. I hate lying. It used to be fun—until I didn’t have a choice. I don’t think about it much now, perhaps because I’ve been doing it for so long, but it’s always there, in the background, like a tooth that always aches and suddenly twinges with pain.
Most of all, though, I hate lying to Owen. Somehow I always managed to keep him out of the web, and now he’s being drawn in. I think of Kate’s text, sitting there on my phone, and it feels as if poison is leaching out of it, into the room—threatening to spoil everything.
“It’s just Kate’s between projects, so it’s a good time for her and . . . well, I’ll be back at work in a few months, so it just feels like now’s as good a time as any.”
“Okay,” he says, bemused but not suspicious. “Well, I guess I’d better give you a proper good-bye kiss, then.”
He kisses me, properly, deeply, making me remember why I love him, why I hate deceiving him. Then he pulls away and kisses Freya. She swivels her eyes sideways to regard him suspiciously, pausing in her feed for a moment, and then she resumes sucking with the single-minded determination that I love about her.
“Love you, too, little vampire,” Owen says affectionately. Then, to me, “How long is the journey?”
“Four hours, maybe? Depends how the connections go.”
“Okay, well, have a great time, and text me when you get there. How long do you think you’ll stay?”
“A few days?” I hazard. “I’ll be back before the weekend.” Another lie. I don’t know. I have no idea. As long as Kate needs me. “I’ll see when I get there.”
“Okay,” he says again. “Love you.”
“I love you, too.” And at last, that’s something I can tell the truth about.
Reading Group Guide
This readers group guide for The Lying Game includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Ruth Ware. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be a human bone.
The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isa—receive the text they had always hoped would never come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate. It says only “I need you.”
The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second-rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty. The rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences . . . and as the four converge in present-day Salten, they realize their shared past was not as safely buried as they had once thought.
Atmospheric, twisty, and with just the right amount of chill to keep you wrong-footed, The Lying Game is told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, lending itself to become another unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. Describe the Lying Game and its rules. What inspired Thea originally to come up with the idea for the game? Why do she and Kate decide to include Fatima and Isa in the Lying Game? What about the game is appealing to the girls?
2. Isa says that Kate “knows what we’ll say—what we’ve always said, whenever we got that text” (p. 5). Were you surprised by how quickly Isa, Fatima, and Thea rushed down to Salten upon receiving Kate’s text? Why do they rush to her aid so quickly? Do you have any friends whom you would do the same for?
3. Describe the Tide Mill. What role has it played in the adolescence of the girls in the clique, and why is it so important to Kate, in particular? Isa is convinced that Kate will never leave the Tide Mill or Salten. Did you think she was correct in her assessment as the novel progressed? Why might Kate be unwilling or unable to leave?
4. When Isa and her friends reunite at Salten seventeen years after they have been dismissed from school there, Thea gives the same toast that she gave when they were students: “To us . . . May we never grow old” (p. 56). What is Isa’s reaction to Thea’s toast? Were you surprised by it? Why do you think Isa reacts the way she does? How has she changed since leaving Salten as a student?
5. Each section of The Lying Game begins with a rule from the game. What’s the effect of having the rules as chapter headings? How do they inform your reading of the story?
6. Isa says, “I once tried to describe Ambrose to an old boyfriend . . . but I found it almost impossible” (p. 73). How would you describe Ambrose? What kind of a teacher and parent was he? Mary Wren says that Ambrose would have done anything for his children whereas Fatima describes him as “an irresponsible fool” (p. 243). Why do each of the women feel so differently about Ambrose? What did you think of him?
7. Isa’s housemistress tells her, “I’m very glad you’ve found friends. But remember, part of being a well-rounded young woman is having a wide variety of friends” (p. 99). Do you agree with the housemistress? What were some of the benefits of having such close friends? Mary describes Isa and her friends as a “little clique” (p. 105). Is that an accurate description? How does Isa feel about Mary’s description and the clique itself as an adult? Were there any disadvantages to being part of it?
8. Rick praises Kate for staying in Salten, telling her, “Your dad was a good man, no matter what others in this place say, and you done well to stick it out here with the gossips” (p. 23). Do you think that Kate is brave for staying in Salten? Why or why not? Discuss some of the rumors about Kate and her father. What are they? Why might the townspeople find them plausible? Were there any rumors that you thought had merit? Which ones and why?
9. On Isa’s first morning back at the Mill, Kate discovers a dead sheep. Who or what did you think was responsible for the sheep’s death? Why? Describe the note that Isa finds in Kate’s pocket. What does it say? Although Isa’s initial impulse is to tell Fatima, “a kind of instinct takes over” (p. 88). Why doesn’t Isa tell Fatima about the note? Would you?
10. When Isa reflects upon the events that took place, she muses that she will tell Freya “a story about bravery, and selflessness, and sacrifice” (p. 366). Do you agree with Isa? Do any of the characters in The Lying Game embody the traits that Isa enumerates? If so, who? How would you characterize the events that have taken place at Salten both during Isa’s school days and at the friends’ reunion?
11. When describing the events that happened shortly before their expulsion from Salten, Thea proclaims that the girls had no choice but to take the actions that they did. Do you agree with Isa when she cries, “Of course we had a choice!” (p. 197). Why or why not? Why might the girls have felt that they had no other options in the moment? Do you think that Kate took advantage of her friends when she asked for their help? If so, how?
12. Although Isa wants to tell Owen what she and her friends did while they were students at Salten, she feels she “can’t. Because it’s not only my secret—it’s theirs, too. And I have no right to betray them” (p. 223). Do you agree with Isa’s decision to withhold this information from Owen? Explain your answer. Do you think that there are any instances when it is permissible to betray a shared secret? If so, what are they?
13. Isa says that she and her friends “have spent seventeen years running and hiding, in our different ways” (p. 93). What are they hiding from? Describe the ways that each of the women has attempted to run from their shared past. Have any of their attempts been successful? Why or why not?
14. What were your initial impressions of Luc? Did you trust him? Why or why not? Describe his relationship with Ambrose and Kate. Were you surprised by his anger as an adult? Why does he harbor such resentment toward Kate? Do you think he is justified in doing so?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. When Isa is on the way to Salten, she muses, “It is heart-stoppingly familiar. London, in all the years I’ve lived there, has been constantly changing . . . But this line, this journey—it hasn’t changed at all” (p. 15). Are there any places in your life that remain unchanged? What are they? Tell your book club about them.
2. Of Kate, Fatima, and Thea, Isa says, “I can’t tell where I end and the others begin” (p. 143). Do you have friends like Isa’s? Share some details with your book club.
3. When you were in school, did you play any games like the Lying Game with your friends? If so, what did you call them? Tell your book club about the games you played, explaining the rules.
4. Owen treats Isa to a day at a spa and, although she doesn’t think it will help her relax, when she gives herself “over to the practiced hands of the spa therapist . . . somehow all the obsessive thoughts are pummeled out of me” (p. 260). Have you ever been to a spa? Did you find it similarly relaxing? Plan a spa day with your book club and unwind together.
5. To learn more about Ruth Ware, read excerpts from her books, and find out if she will be in a city near you, visit her official site at ruthware.com. You can also follow Ruth Ware on twitter at @ruthwarewriter for regular updates on her writing.
A Conversation with Ruth Ware
Both of your previous novels have been New York Times bestsellers. Given the success of your earlier books, did you feel any added pressure when writing The Lying Game? If so, how did you deal with it while you were writing?
I found the success of In a Dark, Dark Wood really distracting when I was writing The Woman in Cabin 10, but in a way the fact that Cabin 10 was doing well felt quite freeing while I was writing The Lying Game. I suppose my biggest worry was proving a “one-hit wonder.” The fact that Cabin 10 was giving Wood a run for its money made me feel like I was (hopefully) not just going to be a flash in the pan as a writer.
As a New York Times bestselling novelist, do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Is there anything that you wish you had known when you first began your career as a professional writer?
Oh, I wish there was a magic fix or some piece of advice that would smooth everything out—I’d bottle it and make a fortune! The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is to write the book that you would want to read, and hope other people agree. As for the publishing side . . . I guess one can do worse than follow the advice Rudyard Kipling gave in his poem “If,” particularly meeting with triumph and disaster just the same (which I interpret as good and bad reviews!).
You describe Salten and the girls’ experiences there so vividly. Was Salten based on a real place? How did you come up with it?
The landscape around Salten is sort of loosely based on Romney Marsh on the south coast, which is eerily beautiful and very isolated. But the Tide Mill is based on one I drove past one misty morning in northern France, in Brittany. It’s near a place called Saint-Suliac. The place I saw is definitely not habitable—it was quite clearly dilapidated beyond repair—but I was completely entranced by the landscape—the bleak, wide salt marshes, the bleached blue skies, and this black crumbling hulk slowly disappearing into the sea. I knew there and then I would end up putting it into a book.
The Lying Game is intricately plotted and filled with unexpected twists. When you began writing, did you know how the story would end?
I had the bones of the story in place from the outset, and the final cataclysmic scene at the Mill was in my mind from the beginning. But the exact twists and turns (including who was responsible for some of the creepier happenings) only revealed themselves in the writing.
There are so many memorable scenes in The Lying Game, from Isa’s train ride down to Salten where she meets Kate and Thea to the girls’ weekends at the Tide Mill. What were your favorite scenes to write? Why?
Ooh . . . hard question! Possibly my favorite was the scene where Isa meets Mary Wren at the post office for the first time. I love writing a scene with a good measure of conflict. But I also love the scenes where all the women are together, figuring stuff out. I really enjoy writing about female friendship. It’s an endlessly interesting dynamic for me.
In The Lying Game, the action alternates between the past when the girls were in school at Salten and present day. Was it difficult to switch between time periods while you were writing? Can you tell us about your writing process?
I write as if I’m someone reading the book—often people ask if I write one strand first, and then go back and seed in the other, but I don’t think I could keep track of who knows what, and the tension would come out wrong, so the answer is no—I write it more or less in the order you read it. (The more or less part being because sometimes my editors will ask me to go back and add an extra scene here or there.) I didn’t find it hard at all to switch back and forth; it felt very natural because the present strand is in the present tense, and the past strand is all linked to Isa’s memories. It did make it hard to edit, however. Normally you can move scenes around if you need to, to preserve a reveal for later in the book, or prolong the tension for some reason. But because all the past scenes are triggered by Isa’s memories—often by specific things that happen in the present-day narrative—it meant that it was really hard to change things.
Kirkus Reviews, Bustle, and Metro have all compared your writing to Agatha Christie’s. Were you influenced by Christie’s novels? Are there any other authors who have inspired you? Who are they?
I love Christie. I read her a huge amount as a teen and I still think there’s little more satisfying than curling up in front of the fire with a sumptuous Christie adaptation on the TV! But for this book, I think I was maybe more influenced by all the boarding school stories I read as a child. There’s maybe a bit of The Secret History in there, too.
Is there anything that has been particularly rewarding about publishing The Lying Game? If so, what?
Well, as I’m writing this, it hasn’t yet come out—so I’m still waiting for the most rewarding part, which is talking to readers and finding out what they made of my characters.
What would you like your readers to take away from The Lying Game? What compelled you to write it?
I’m quite resistant to telling people what they are supposed to find in a book—I don't like it as a reader, and so I try not to tell people how they should react, although I’m always interested in the different things people pick up on. But I suppose what compelled me to write it was thinking about the priorities in our lives and how our loyalties shift throughout our lifetimes—how we go from being small children, completely focused on our parents, to teens wrapped up in our friends, to love affairs, and then finally we become parents ourselves and that focus moves to our own children, and we would sacrifice almost anything to keep them safe. I’m not sure if I realized that that’s what I was writing about until I’d finished, though!
Are you working on anything now? Can you tell us about it?
I’m about to start my fourth book! It’s way too early to say very much about it, because I’m not sure if I’ve figured it out myself yet, but I think it might feature a bequest. . . .
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I love Ruth Ware's books. The book begins slow but works up to a great ending. There are always interesting characters in her books. The ending was a surprise. Excellent title too
Ruth Ware does not dissapoint! This is the third book I've read from her and was again completely enthralled from the start. There are so very few writers that are consistent in their writing. I always end up reading her books within 2 days because I cannot put it down, and then am sad that I finished it so quickly and have to wait for a new one. There's always a sense of foreboding and anxiety because you know something is going to happen, but never know exactly what it's going to be. Loved it!
I found the book hard to get into , the characters boring and a chore to read on I picked this story based on the couple of reviews and her previous novel, but sorry to say didn't live up to the hype Not sure I will finish it
Just when you think you know where the storey is headed there is a twist to keep you guessing. Really enjoyed the read !
I really liked the woman in cabin 10 but the lying game was boring, slow and repetitive. I read half the book and nothing significant happened and lost interest and stopped reading. Whatever anyone feels about this book is fine but please don't compare Ms. Ware to Agatha Christie.
Loved the diversity of character amongst 4 good friends. Wished language was not so vulgar at times. I believe women can be complex and real without cussing like common sailors. An occasional burst packs more punch. Regardless I thought Ms Ware did a great job of keeping things suspenseful and yet real.
The story was predictable and went on for too long.
Great books and simple to read and Take a Barnes $10 Off coupons code @ bookscoupons.com
As always, I'm impressed!
These women clearly never grew up. Main character was totally unlikable. I felt bad for her husband. Did not like the story. Do not recomend.
I found this book difficult to get into, but was a decent read.
Intriguing and sad
This book was okay. I didn't like the way it went back and forth between present day and 17 years ago in school. For me it didn't flow so well. I understand that Isa is a new mom, but the way she handled her baby drove me crazy. Freya (the baby) was more of a main character. It seemed to take forever to get to the point of the story. What happened that night all those years ago? This wasn't a horrible book, it just wasn't great for me. I was bored through most of it.
Slower paced than some of her other works but worth it in the end.
Four girls who become fast friends at a boarding school, bonding over their unconventional home lives, become a force to be reckoned with thanks to their game. Thea and Kate are deep into the Lying Game when they meet Fatima and Isa on the train on their way to their first day at Salten House. The new girls are invited into the Lying Game and the girls pledge an unspoken pact to put each other above everyone else. They spend every weekend together at Kate's house just across the marsh swimming in the Reach, drinking and smoking under the watchful eye of Kate's father, Ambrose, the school's art teacher. Fast forward seventeen years later and Isa, Thea and Fatima get a text in the middle of the night from Kate - I need you - this could only mean one thing, their lies have finally caught up to them. The story changes between two time periods, age 15 and present day and is written from the perspective of Isa. I enjoyed "The Lying Game" so much more than "The Woman in Cabin 10". This isn't a true thriller mystery in my opinion but it definitely has its twist and turns as Ware takes you on a ride to figure out whose body has been found buried beneath the sand on the Reach.
Like all of Ware books this one pulled me in from the start but then it was a let down. Too much info about breast feeding and the main character was too whiney and timid. Finishing it was a chore. Skip this book and read her other ones instead.
Throughout the book the "lies" are built up so much that when you get to the end it is a huge disappointment. It was an okay read but I was expecting so much more.
I really liked The Woman in Cabin 10 and the Death of Mrs. Westaway, however this book was not as exciting. As others have stated, it was very anti-climactic. The book was well written as were the characters and the story kept me reading. I was just expecting something explosive at the end considering how elaborate the Lying Game was. Also, while likable, I found Isa to be incredibly selfish as it relates to the subplot.
I couldn’t get into any of the characters or care for them.
This is a solid novel, but for me there was nothing that made it stand out. All of the characters are nicely developed, the plot moves at a good pace, and there's twists, as one would expect from a mystery/thriller novel. The subplot with the main character's husband seemed a bit overwrought. I was disappointed that the suggestion that the lying game the girls developed during their school years was a key aspect of their friendship - other than a few examples that seemed trivial, the author fails to deliver any substantial lies or consequences thereof, or on why that made them such an insular clique. The main and central characters are all strong women and it's not a taxing read - one could enjoy this as a fine beach read.
Slow boring and disappointed with this book Ruth has done much better than this book I gave away
"We all know what we we did, the way that slow, sunlit summer unraveled beneath our fingers… " It appears that I’ve fallen into another trap. I’m affectionately calling it the ‘Ware Trap’, it happens every time I pick up a book that has great reviews and am subsequently disappointed. See, Ruth Ware has four books out at the moment and of those four I have read three. Of those three, only one has struck me as a great thriller. I picked up The Lying Game thinking it was going to be a great psychological thriller, but instead I found it predictable, enjoyable, but predictable where the mystery is involved. I want to start by saying I enjoyed this book as a piece of fiction; I really like Ware’s writing style and am always drawn into her books in a way that makes me want to devour them on the spot. I always enjoy her characters, from the good to the slightly creepy, and I think she has a wonderful way of building complex characters and intricate relationships. For this book in particular, I enjoyed reading about Isa’s relationship with her daughter. The way she describes that motherly bond stuck me as profoundly beautiful. The problems I have with this book unwind over time and slowly build until I reach the end and think “wow, what?” First, I thought the plot was interesting and I really liked the way it was building, but in the end the resolution was kind of blah. I had figured it out about half way through, but I was hoping I was wrong because I wanted it to be something crazier and really twisty, but again, as with her first novel, I was disappointed. There were a few points in the book that I thought was creepy, interesting, and made me want to read more, but overall I was underwhelmed. I have a sort of love-hate relationship with this book because on one hand I enjoyed it and on the other I thought the mystery part was underwhelming and predictable. So, after almost a full day of consideration, I gave it three roses because I can’t lie and say I didn’t like it. Will I read Ware’s newest book? Yes, in time, I will. I have no doubts I’ll enjoy it to the extent that involves the writing, characters, and atmosphere, but I can’t guarantee I’ll enjoy the mystery/thriller aspect to it.
I just finished this book and was overall happy with it. The later part of the book really took off and was hard to put down. The story is sad in nature, with characters that come off as unlikeable. I despise the lying. Also, the baby was talked a lot in so much detail. I would recommend this story!