His First Lie by Mark Hill

Do you want a thriller that grips from the first line?

Do you want a thriller to leave you gasping for air?

Connor Laird frightens people: he’s intense, he’s fearless, and he seems to be willing to do anything to protect himself and those he loves. He arrives in the Longacre Children’s Home seemingly from nowhere, and instantly becomes hero and villain to every other child there.
Thirty years later, someone is killing all of those who grew up in the Longacre, one by one. Each of them has secrets, not least investigating cop DI Ray Drake.
One by one the mysteries of the past are revealed as Drake finds himself in a race against time before the killer gets to him.
Who is killing to hide their secret?

And can YOU guess the ending?

My review:

The theme of historical abuse of children within a care setting is an extremely tough topic to put across in a novel. I did have some reservations regarding how this would be given a sense of realism. However, the author did not rely upon graphic visual scenes of abuse. Nor did he portray the adult victims in an unrealistic way. What the author has done, is show how truly devasting the effects of abuse can be, to the young mind.

I recall another book, recently released which received negative comments for making the reader feel uncomfortable with its themes of historical racism. His First Lie, reminded me of that in one way. The theme of racism or historical sexual abuse of children is supposed to be uncomfortable. Because it was horrendously uncomfortable for those that endured it. I personally think the author has done a fantastic job of writing about such an emotive issue. Regardless of your personal feelings to real-life or high-profile cases, open the novel and listen to the journey of Connor Laird.
It is an incredibly powerful and heart-breaking journey.

‘The boy loved his parents more than anything on this Earth. And so he had to kill them’

The novel opens on the English Channel in 1986. It is an intense read, right from the opening pages. We are aware that there is a young boy consumed by self-loathing due to an event in his past. I love that the author hadn’t used violence to shock the reader. But the psychology of a broken mind, trying to grasp a hold of sanity. I knew this was going to be an intelligent novel, carefully crafted.

The novel then jumps to the present day. A bunch of coppers gather in a pub, to celebrate a recent commendation. The coppers are then briefly introduced. The central detectives are DI Ray Drake and his newly promoted DS Flick Crowley. The partnership between an experienced male police officer and a female eager to prove herself, works very well throughout the novel.
Flick and Ray are called to the scene of a brutal murder. A scene where three victims have been bound and stabbed. Flick is put in-charge of the case. Ray finds it difficult to let go of the case, especially when he recognises one of the victims. . .

The victims are identified as Kenny Overton, his wife Barbara and one of his twin sons Phillip. The situation becomes much more sinister when we learn the sons were lured to the house via a text message from Kenny. Did Kenny lure his son to his own death? Or did the killer intend to wipe out the whole family?

The novel has alternating chapters, rotating between the police case, the adult victims and the Longacre Children’s home of 1984. The scenes set in 1984 are harrowing, the powerless victims and their evil tormentor Gordon Tallis. But how did the abuse begin? Who knew about it? Did anyone cover it up? Longacre provides so many questions, as we the reader seek to understand the horror that occurred there.

Connor laird is found alone and wandering the streets of London. When he is collected and taken to Hackney Wick police station. From there he is taken to Longacre by Sally Raynor. We are aware that Sgt Harry Crowley is on the take, but for what, is not revealed. Are Sally and Sgt Crowley part of the cycle of abuse?

‘I’m nobody’s friend’ – Connor Laird

When Connor arrives at Longacre, it isn’t long before he asserts himself as the new ‘top-dog’. Leaving a young Elliot with a bloody nose and a bruised pride. But what does the duties of the ‘top-dog’ fully incorporate?
Has Connor just placed himself in serious danger?

In the present day, we meet a now-adult Elliot Juniper. Elliot is a low-level wheeler-dealer. He isn’t fully legit, but he is no criminal mastermind either. He is befriended and ripped off for £30K by a new friend ‘Gavin’. This drives him to the brink of a breakdown and then the calls begin. . .

‘She’ll know the kind of man you are’

The scenes from Longacre continue to add layer upon layer of tension. As you learn more and more, it is easy to understand how the events would have impacted the victim’s futures and their everyday relationships with others.
A victim’s past is never truly forgotten.

‘An evil from that home had been revived, he was certain of that. And if he didn’t take measures, it would be the end of him’

When the property of Kenny Overton is searched, the team become aware of a shoe box of news clippings and photographs. They directly link Longacre to a series of deaths.

Something happened at Longacre

Flick must trawl through Kenny’s notes regarding fellow residents of Longacre. She makes the shocking discovery that David, Karen, Regina, Ricky and Jason have all died in mysterious circumstances. With Elliot, Amelia, Deborah and Connor being the only survivors from the photos, but where are they now?

The background of Longacre is slowly exposed. The adults that ‘manage’ the home often abuse alcohol and suffer violent mood swings. Life at Longacre must have been hell on earth for the fragile young minds of the past. The children are frightened and have no real authority to stand up to the adults in-charge.
That is until Connor arrives. . .

‘Connor was a nutcase. It was the only explanation’

One of the news articles details a visit from high court judge Leonard Drake. A chairman of Hackney Children’s protection league. But why are Flick and Ray’s fathers tied to the history of Longacre? Will the sins of the father’s past, repeat on their children?

‘A refuge for many kids in the borough without a family’

The novel raises various thought-provoking topics and questions. The abuse of those whom wield all the power and control over their victims, must be unbelievably damaging. The psychology of child victims in the aftermath and into adulthood. The legal and justice system that allowed and effectively enabled these abusive ‘homes’ to flourish. The effect of institutionalising young children and the risks and social/psychological outcomes. There was an era of appalling abuse of society’s most vulnerable. I think this novel highlights the struggle the victims face and their desperation to eradicate their horrific pasts, wouldn’t you feel the same? I think this novel would be ideal for book groups and possibly for victim advocacy groups.

A powerful glimpse into the childhoods of children so overwhelmingly failed by a system intended for them to thrive. 5*

Mark Hill

***His First Lie is currently on Ebook/Kindle offer for just 99p***

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