Tuesday, November 24, 2020


LITTLE CRUELTIES by Liz Nugent (Gallery/Scout Press, 2020)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

This story begins with a funeral. One of three brothers is dead, mourned by his siblings. But which one? And how? And, most importantly: why?

William, Brian, and Luke are each born a year apart in a lower middle class Catholic family in 1960s Dublin. William, the eldest, rises to the top of the heap in the film industry as a successful movie producer. Luke, the baby of the family, surprises everyone by morphing into a worldwide pop star. Brian, the compliant middle son, is the eternal adult in the room: the helpful, steady one, the manager of finances and careers.

But none of them is actually quite what he seems. Wounded by childhood, they have betrayed one another in myriad ways, hiding behind little lies that have developed into full blown treachery. With an unnerving eye for the complexities of families, Nugent delves into the secret life of a deeply troubled household and provides stunning insights into the many forces that shape us from childhood.

Exquisite storytelling from a masterful author. Liz Nugent knows how to take readers to some dark and disturbing places with some at-times foul characters while compelling us to keep turning the pages.

Irish author Nugent has racked up #1 bestseller accolades and several awards for her compulsive standalones that centre on rather horrendous people. Whether it’s a man who ‘snaps’ and beats his wife, a rich couple happy to cover up a horrible crime, or an aging socialite willing to do anything to maintain her fantasy life, Nugent’s characters are often the worst in the room, yet strangely engaging.

Little Cruelties continues Nugent’s magic for making rather revolting folk rather riveting. It’s the tale of three brothers who take sibling rivalry to toxic levels, and opens with all three at a funeral: one brother is in the coffin, has one of the other two put him there? 

The novel is divided into thirds, with readers taken through the perspectives of each of the three Drumm brothers on key moments of their lives over the past decades. 

Will, the eldest, is a womanising ‘family man’ and film producer. The youngest, Luke, shines bright as a young pop star before burning out in a haze of addictions and mental health issues. Middle child Brian seems the boring one, devoted to niece Daisy and shifting from teaching into celebrity management. All three are the offspring of a self-absorbed showbiz mother. A family of grudges and jealousies, damaging each other’s lives (and those of others) whether they mean to or not. As events unfold we come to some pretty horrible realisations about many things. Is any redemption possible?

Nugent has penned a riveting story that blends whodunnit with shades of Greek tragedy.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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