There are more mysteries, dysfunctional relationships, plot twists and quirky characters in this single book than some authors manage in an entire career. Author Magnus Stanke sets the scene with a cold-blooded killing then draws out a skein of enigmatic plot threads, several of which stay intriguingly unresolved until the final pages.
There are moments where Times Lies strays into Shakespearean territory: identical brothers; one beloved by all, the other disliked even by their own father. One sibling blessed with the perfect family: the other isolated, overshadowed and angry. These ominous undercurrents of resentment generate deadly intentions – and after the first, unintentional killing, murder turns out to be habit-forming…
Although Time Lies is subtitled ‘a Cold War mystery’, the plot does not concern itself with international espionage, double agents or Checkpoint Charlie. This isn’t a spy story but instead a tight-knit murder mystery set in the two Germanys of the 1980s. The Iron Curtain casts its intimidating shadow over all the protagonists yet Time Lies isn’t a political thriller. It’s an intensely personal exploration of sibling rivalry, set in small-town rural Germany, high in the mountains of Lower Saxony. There’s no escaping the influence of the communist Eastern Bloc, of the GDR’s instruments of oppression and the divisive tactics wielded to great effect by the Stasi. But this book is set on a very personal level, in which intimate actions – taken on either side of the great divide – echo down the decades with dreadful repercussions.
I especially enjoyed the exploits of the female lead, Dagmar. Many writers would have used her simply as the sex object (and boy, does she get some action. You go, girl!) but Stanke gives her a complicated back story and a richly detailed narrative of her own. She’s nobody’s fool, but finds herself entangled in the most unusual love triangle anyone could imagine.
Nothing else about Time Lies exactly confirms to genre norms, either. The author has an unusual writing style which veers clear of crime-thriller stereotypes and his use of English is at times ingenious – occasionally off-the-wall (in fact I wondered if he’s bilingual and ‘thinking’ in a different language, maybe?). Time Lies isn’t as slick as a mainstream thriller from a big publisher; the pace does pause in a few places where a commercial editor would’ve nudged it along and cut some of the tangential diversions. But that would also have made it rather less remarkable.
Time Lies is an unusual and original story, cram full of chapter-end cliff-hangers and cliché-free characters. Stanke takes chances with his characters and steers the plot in genuinely unexpected directions. I had no idea what the outcome would be and was ultimately rewarded by an emotionally mature, satisfyingly significant payoff. I’ll definitely look out for more from this author in future.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Time Lies by Magnus Stanke is available as an ebook
I found Times Lies through the 2017 Mystery Thriller Week – a global event which celebrates the very best in all kinds of crime fiction
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