There are so many domestic thrillers lurking around my bookshelves at the moment, it’s hard to be truly impressed by anything in the genre at this point because everything seems to be ‘done’. So authors are going to greater and greater lengths to surprise the reader, or put a unique twist on a story that should be able to stand on its own two feet. Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent was a welcome surprise to my recent skepticism, and I’m excited to share it with my readers now.

There are so many domestic thrillers lurking around my bookshelves at the moment, it’s hard to be truly impressed by anything in the genre at this point. Because everything seems to be ‘done’, authors are going to greater and greater lengths to surprise the reader, or put a unique twist on a story that should be able to stand on its own two feet. Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent was a welcome surprise to my recent skepticism, and I’m excited to share it with you now.

It’s one of those books that begins with the end. The opening scene is about a seemingly happily married couple (aren’t they always), when after being delivered a delicious meal by his doting wife, Oliver Ryan beats her within inches of her life. The rest of the book is an explanation as to why he ‘snapped’. Mirroring the cycle of gossip, we get everyone’s perspectives on Oliver, even his, leading up to this incident. Unfortunately the victim does not get a voice, but this is what ratchets up the tension, as unfair as it may seem. As other reviews have suggested, Nugent expertly weaves in the other voices making each extremely distinctive and believable, men and women alike. Some viewpoints even added a bit of comic relief, which is no easy task when dealing with a serious subject such as this.

Author Liz Nugent

The characterization is the most obvious strength of this novel, because somehow, Nugent seduces us into feeling sorry for Ryan, even though we know what horrible deed(s) he has committed. He is a sociopath, no doubt about it, and she makes that very clear, but we also see the threads of his childhood slowly snap to reform the monster of a person he becomes. It’s not a unique feat for an author to create empathy for ‘bad’ characters because that is done all the time, however Nugent’s efforts are subtle, and you barely realize how manipulative she can be with your emotions until you’re faced with the last page of the book, and you still want to know more about the fate of Ryan.

Another entirely personal reason that I liked this book is because of its depiction of life as an author and illustrator. Spoiler-it ain’t easy!
I’m not even a writer and I know this, but I always appreciate when books can realistically portray how challenging this industry is. Oliver’s pen name is Vincent Dax and he’s written an extremely successful series of books for children, illustrated by his wife Alice. And success is not always what it seems especially in Oliver’s case…

I realize I’m way behind by posting a review of this book because it was released in early 2018 here in Canada, and in 2014 in Ireland, where Nugent lives. It won a bunch of awards there before being published in North America, so many of my UK readers will already be familiar with this book and looking forward to her new stuff, if they haven’t read it already. I really loved this one, so I’ll be keeping my eye out for her newest Canadian release, Lying in Wait.