“Lawyer David Ellis burst onto the scene with a series of thrillers set in the legal world he obviously knows and savors. His debut, Line of Vision, won an Edgar Award for best first novel, and the two books that followed were well-reviewed and widely purchased.
Now, for his fourth effort, Ellis moves away from the familiar world of courtrooms and cop shops and into the dark jungle of terrorism. He also challenges himself and his readers by writing In the Company of Liars not only in the present tense but also working backward from the death of his lead character.
Allison Pagone is a writer who apparently takes her own life when her lawyer lover gets her involved in a terrorist plot and she becomes a suspect in his murder. The time device takes a few pages to get comfortable with, but then it becomes an exciting part of the whole illusion: How many chainsaws can Ellis juggle without doing himself and his book some serious damage?
Ellis keeps us in suspense and curious about Pagone, mostly by having us see her involvement in plots and crimes through the eyes of determined FBI agent Jane McCoy. There’s also enough high-level corruption to keep a roomful of paranoid investigators busy.
“Nothing is what it seems in In the Company of Liars, David Ellis’ compelling new novel of intrigue, murder and terrorism. Rarely does an author give readers such a good time trying – futilely – to guess what’s about to happen. Or, more to the point, what has already happened.
That’s because In the Company of Liars is told in reverse chronological order. It begins with federal agents storming a research doctor’s house to arrest him, the near-simultaneous arrest of a major figure in a Middle East terror organization not unlike al-Qaeda, and the apparent suicide of a popular novelist on trial for murder. Each chapter tells what happened just previously until the book ends about five months earlier on the night of the murder of a lobbyist.
The device works so well that after a couple chapters, you don’t notice it. Readers will sometimes find themselves flipping back through the book to see if events track, though. They do. And the backward progression seems the only way to tell this particular story.
And what a story it is.
The novelist who commits suicide is Allison Pagone, likely to be convicted of the murder of her lover, Sam Dillon, a partner in a lobbying firm with Allison’s ex-husband. But her death isn’t all it seems. It was murder, made to look like a suicide. The killer? A Pakistani terrorist who has a plot—or two or three—of his own.
Allison returns to the living a few chapters into the novel and as readers get to know her, they will undoubtedly feel sadness or indignation at the undignified death of such a vibrant character. Allison’s brilliance has been dimmed, though, by the stress of the trial. It’s become a cause célèbre – she’s portrayed as a woman scorned, after all, she did just have a fight with the man she’s accused of murdering–and the cable news stations follow her everywhere, reporting every tidbit.
That gives Ellis a chance to show off some humor. Allison wonders what reporters would say if they followed her into the grocery store: “Yes, Bob, we can now confirm that Allison Pagone has decided to go with the sugarless gum Trident as her breath freshener, baffling experts who had predicted cinnamon Altoids.” And the newspaper headline, “Murder suspect: ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter!’ ”
The complex series of events includes bribery at the state senate, the cost of prescription medicine, and international terror in addition to the murder. It becomes clear Allison is lying, taking the fall for someone, but who? It could be her daughter, with whom she has a tense relationship, or perhaps it’s her ex-husband, for reasons that are revealed subtly. The relationships among Allison and her family are real and honest, raising the plot’s stakes.
On her trail–or perhaps not, but on someone’s trail–is FBI agent Jane McCoy, a cunning woman who, as is the way with everyone in the novel, plays everything close to the vest.
Ellis, an Edgar Award-winning novelist, is bound to find more fans with this thrilling novel that holds your attention from end to beginning. You’ll be happy you spent time In the Company Of Liars.
“Edgar-winner Ellis takes some big chances in his fourth book (after 2004’s JURY OF ONE), and he pulls them off in grand style. The Chicago trial lawyer branches out from his previous legal thrillers into a minefield of world terrorism and misplaced family loyalties, writing not only in the present tense but working backward from the death of his lead character, author Allison Pagone, who ostensibly kills herself after getting tangled up in a terrorist plot through her lover, a lawyer whom she’s suspected of murdering. Despite the inherent difficulties of his time device (each chapter runs forward in normal time), Ellis manages to create a large amount of suspense and curiosity about Pagone, mostly by having us see her involvement in plots and crimes through the eyes of a dedicated, level-headed FBI agent named Jane McCoy. There’s enough high-level corruption to keep several investigative agencies busy, and some wonderfully mordant scenes of the underbellies of law and government in action. This is another impressive performance from a writer who expands his ambition and artistry from book to book.
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Edgar Award winner Ellis (Line of Vision; Jury of One) has put a new twist on thrillers—he’s written his latest in reverse chronological order. The story unpeels like an onion, layer by layer, as it moves backward day by day until it reaches the beginning, which is the end of the book. The approach feels somewhat gimmicky, but skilled writing and a tricky storyline make it work, even if it is slowgoing. Allison Pagone, a best-selling crime novelist, has killed herself—or was it murder? As the story backtracks, Sam Dillon, Allison’s paramour and a Washington lobbyist, has been murdered, and Allison is charged with the crime. It seems she may be protecting her ex-husband and/or her daughter, and several government agencies want to know who is involved in possible bribes of key senators, in a cover-up in the pharmaceutical industry, and with mysterious Middle Eastern terrorists. All these threads are neatly woven into this intricate plot, but nothing is as it seems as the roller-coaster ride keeps coiling backwards, finally hurtling to the starting point. Strongly recommended for most suspense fiction collections.”
—Library Journal, starred review
“Already in the fast lane of legal thrillers, Ellis’ work is approaching the coveted “diamond” lane where every novel is a bestseller and every plot a winner. In Jury, an attorney agrees to defend a young man accused of murder, not realizing at the time that he (or his friend) might be a child long lost to her. In the Company of Liars breaks ground for plotting, in that the first chapter presents the story’s conclusion and each succeeding chapter unveils preceding action. It’s also beautifully crafted to conceal unexpected clues, thus revising the reader’s understanding of “what happened” many times over. Carolyn liked it quite a lot but would still like to confer with Ellis over his final, breathtaking revelation.”
—Murder By the Book
“You could, conceivably, read In the Company of Liars by beginning with the last chapter; David Ellis’ exciting novel, written in what the publisher calls “chronological reverse,” begins with what seems to be the end of a suspenseful mystery involving terrorism, murder, government corruption, corporate intrigue and jilted love. But as you read the book’s end, or beginning, you’ll exhale and discover that the result of this tale told backward is a disturbing, breathtaking lesson about innocence, guilt and trust that is best read by working your way back to the beginning.
Allison Pagone is a public defender turned best-selling novelist who is accused of murdering Sam Dillon, her lover and the head of Dillon & Becker, a lobbying firm. Ram Haroon is a Pakistani university student studying in America, caught up in the capture of Mushin al-Bakhari, the No. 2 aid for the leader of an international terrorist organization, the Liberation Front. Dr. Neil Lomas is a cocaine-and-gambling-addicted doctor working for Flannagan-Maxx, a pharmaceutical firm, on a drug disguised as baby aspirin that slowly kills its victim. Did Allison kill her lover? If not, then why does she so ardently refuse to submit evidence obtained by her biographer and new friend, Larry Evans, that she knows might spare her the executioner’s needle? What is the real relationship between the Liberation Front, Flannagan-Maxx and the Dillon & Becker lobbying firm? Is Allison protecting her ex-husband, Mateo, who, as an employee of Dillon, bribed three state legislators on behalf of Flannagan-Maxx? Is Jessica, Allison’s daughter and intern at Dillon, involved in Sam’s murder?
There are so many twists and turns in this thrilling novel that the reader will be left wondering just who these liars really are. The end, or beginning, will surprise you. You are guaranteed never to jump to conclusions again.”
—Roanoke (Virginia) Times
“Edgar-winner Ellis takes some big chances in his fourth book (after 2004’s Jury of One), and he pulls them off in grand style. The Chicago trial lawyer branches out from his previous legal thrillers into a minefield of world terrorism and misplaced family loyalties, writing not only in the present tense but working backward from the death of his lead character. This is another impressive performance from a writer who expands his ambition and artistry from book to book.”
—Fort Wayne Journal Gazette
“In the new Ellis book, the first things you read are the last things that happened. These aren’t flashbacks. The entire story is chronologically reversed with the ending of the book occurring some months earlier than the beginning.
Allison Pagone is a novelist and former public defender. She recently divorced Mat, a lobbyist working with Sam Dillon at the state Capitol. There’s corruption, bribery, murder and even terrorists. So FBI special agents, Jane McCoy and her partner, Owen Harrick, are also involved. To mention any more takes away from the fun of trying to get through the plot complications and do it in reverse.”
“Jane McCoy is the first FBI agent through the door of a house, where she encounters Doctor Lomas, a broken man holding a gun to his own temple. This happens on a Saturday in early June and is precisely the sort of confrontation you might expect at the end of a novel. In a sense, that’s just what you’re getting. More than three hundred pages later, Agent McCoy sits in her car, watching a house where a man has been murdered, a man who is connected to that hapless, desperate doctor with the gun at his head. This happens four months earlier, on a Sunday in early February.
How we get from the future to the past is the key to this deftly constructed and sharply written suspense novel by the author of the Edgar-winning Line of Vision. The plot weaves a pair of topical threads, one having to do with international terrorism and the other with pharmaceutical skullduggery. The characters are never clearly good nor evil; you must read to the end to discover not so much who done it as who didn’t do it.
Ellis’s strategy has been compared to the film Memento, with its back to the future narrative structure. In fact, when I saw the film I kept noticing the dangling narrative threads and was seldom shocked. The brilliance of Ellis’s work here is in the way he peels away the layers of story line again and again to reveal unexpected twists and turns without tipping his hand.
Can you begin a novel with your climax and still have a surprising twist at the end/beginning? Ellis can, and does, in this well-crafted thriller.”