In The Lie Maker by Linwood Barclay, Boston journalist and novelist Jack Givins is down on his luck. He’s fired before even starting a new job, his car blows up and his publisher rejects his third novel. So Jack is receptive when his literary agent visits with a burner phone that eventually delivers a lucrative job offer: write histories for people entering the US Witness Protection Program.
“The Witness Security Program was authorized by the Organized Crime Control Act of 1970 and amended by the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984,” notes the program site. “The U.S. Marshals Service has protected, relocated, and given new identities to more than 19,000 witnesses and their family members, since the program began in 1971.” The program provides witnesses with new identification and documentation, initial support that leads to self-sufficiency.
His new employer, Gwen Kaminsky, tough and demanding, repeatedly reminds him that she has a stable of writers. A condition of the new job is that he keep his employer's identity secret. Their meetings are clandestine, and she runs operations out of an office labeled as an import firm. Jack strives to please. After writing and rewriting a profile, he asks to meet the witness and Gwen makes elaborate arrangements, requiring that Jack wear a blindfold. On the return trip, he asks how thoroughly she had checked him out and how far back she went.
She explains that, with no criminal record or inappropriate associations with groups on the US watch list, he checked out. Jack responds, noting he found it “one hell of a coincidence that you’d pick someone like me… Someone with more than a passing acquaintance with the witness protection program.”
Gwen blows up, assuming that Jack is a witness under protection, but he quickly assures her that the witness is his father- a former hitman who testified against his employer who ordered the hits. Michael Donahue left his wife and child when Jack was nine. The mother remarried and changed their names years earlier. Gwen expresses alarm, fearful of being fired, adding “There’s no way I shouldn’t have known this.” Then she asks why he told her.
“I wanted to clear the air,” Michael explains. "I wanted to be sure there wasn’t something fishy about you coming to me.” He goes on to ask that Gwen help arrange meeting with his father. “I don’t know how to find him, but I figure you do.”
At one point, Jack learns the subject of his first profile was murdered. But he should have checked the program website: “No Witness Security Program participant following pro-gram guidelines has ever been harmed or killed.”
Jack is surrounded by deceitful characters – including the woman who hires him, the girlfriend who covertly tries to figure out his new employer, a stepfather who consistently has money problems, an agent who misleads about the novel's rejection, a father who abruptly makes brief appearances over the years, lying to protect his son. More than one dies.
Jack also withholds information, but with time and trust, eventually releases truth in pieces.
The characters may have flaws, but are earnest and funny, often doing the right thing at the end. Tone and plot are fast-paced and noir. The writing is witty, sharp, excluding unnecessary details.
Some lies land characters in more trouble. Others are essential for survival.