Creating Suspense Using External
and Internal Storms
By Dawn Ius
It’s often difficult to categorize a Carla Buckley book—a mystery, a novel of suspense, a domestic thriller? In the case of her latest release, it’s perhaps a little of all of the above. And as is true with each of her books, THE LIAR’S CHILD is an addictive, immersive, and propulsive read.
New York Times bestselling author Lisa Unger says “Carla Buckley has a rare gift for character” and that prowess is on full display here, not only in character depth, but also in sheer numbers—with five narrators, this is Buckley’s largest cast.
But at the heart of this story is Sara Lennox, a bit of an outcast whose intentionally quiet and simple life is upended when in the face of an incoming storm, Lennox does something completely out of character: she rescues her neighbor’s children not only from the hurricane’s path, but also from their broken home—without telling anyone.
This bold act provided inspiration for the entire novel.
“I needed to be able to understand what would motivate Sara to take these children, without even telling the police,” Buckley says. “Once I had that figured out, the pieces of the story started coming together.”
Though not necessarily at the thrilling pace in which the novel reads. Buckley admits that several of the characters went through a few iterations before making their final appearance known, but perhaps none of them required as much research as the social worker who has only a brief—but poignant—piece in the story.
Though this novel is not necessarily meant to be a commentary on the child welfare system, it does explore how that system can fail—and Buckley really wanted to get those parts right.
“I’ve always been able to get people to talk about what they do, but for this book, I had to cast a much wider net into my network,” she says. “Information about kids isn’t in the public domain, so I was researching right up to the last minute.”
Readers won’t notice though, because in true Buckley form, this research—including a few disturbing statistics about missing children—is expertly woven into the narrative. The suspense is palpable, much like the atmospheric detail of the incoming storms, both internal and external.
Buckley herself has never stood in the eye of a hurricane, but she’s long been fascinated with forces of nature, and can recall a time not too long ago when she and her family were evacuated from a beach house rental property because of an abrupt change in weather.
“It was perfect in every way—until it wasn’t,” she says. “I went outside intentionally to feel it. There’s something about nature that forces us to act in a certain way. We can’t reason with it. It’s the ultimate villain.”
It’s certainly one of the factors that impact the characters in THE LIAR’S CHILD, but this is no ordinary man—or woman—versus nature thriller. Buckley uses her extraordinary command of the craft to pitch us deep into the hearts of her tragically flawed and troubled characters. The novel is beautifully written, which of course, doesn’t happen by accident.
“Language is extremely important to me,” she says. “I do a lot of revision, looking for specific things. Where am I using two words when one would suffice? I work in silence with noise-cancelling headphones, and sometimes I close my eyes so I can feel the words.”
A somewhat romanticized process for some, but for Buckley this method—coupled with a thirst for reading as many well-crafted books as she can get her hands on—has made her one of the genre’s “must read” authors. Whatever genre that may be.
With THE LIAR’S CHILD out in the wild, and catching the attention of critics across North America, Buckley has settled into crafting her next novel, a dual timeline story set in Washington, DC. The book will take place over six weeks and will follow the lives of three young boys in private school. Oh, and the murder of a fourth student.