The Liar of Red Valley by Walter Goodwater

October 1, 2021

Don’t trust the Liar.

Don’t go in the River.

Do not cross the King.

In Red Valley, California, you follow the rules if you want to stay alive. But even that isn’t enough to protect Sadie now that she’s unexpectedly become the Liar: the keeper and maker of Red Valley’s many secrets.

In a town like this, friendships are hard-won and bad blood lasts generations, and when not everyone in town is exactly human, it isn’t a safe place to make enemies.

And though the Liar has power—power to remake the world, with just a little blood—what Sadie really needs is answers: Why is the town’s sheriff after her? What does the King want from her? And what is the real purpose of the Liar of Red Valley?

Granting dreams and wishes is old news. In genre fiction, practitioners of that particular art are ten a penny. Imagine if there was someone who could make your lies come true. At first glance, you might think that sounds terrible, but really think about it. You could wipe away that horrible thing you said or did. You could remove the hurt from your life. Sure, it would be a lie and there would be a cost. The question really becomes how much are you willing to pay? This week’s review is the urban fantasy noir The Liar of Red Valley by Walter Goodwater.

I couldn’t help but empathise with the main character, Sadie. Already trapped in a small unassuming life with no obvious direction, she is thrust into a role she is totally unprepared to do. Inheriting the mantle of Liar, Sadie finds herself surrounded by potential enemies on all sides. For every lie that Sadie is asked to create, someone needs to pay the price. Sadie doesn’t like what she is forced to do but sees the necessity of it. Many townsfolk view her with outright suspicion but still call on her services. Nothing like a bit of good old-fashioned downhome hypocrisy is there?

The town of Red Valley is a dark place. There is the King and his eerie foot-soldiers, but that’s not all. The demonically enhanced Laughing Boys also roam the streets. Even the patrons of the local dive bar, Tips, are not entirely human. There are a plethora of strange and unusual characters to meet. Walter Goodwater has that same skill I’ve witnessed in authors like Stephen King; that ability to very quickly establish characters. Within a handful of pages, Sadie feels familiar and you are quickly drawn into her life.

Of course, in a tale exploring the nature of lies, there has to be revelatory moments of honesty. As events spiral towards the novel’s ultimate climax, Sadie has to confront some brutal truths. It turns out that magic, however small, comes at a cost. There has been a Liar in Red Valley for generations and they have always made an impact on the town. Secrets and lies have a way of festering and causing their own unique brand of grief.

Though fantastical in nature, there is a downbeat gritty realism to this novel that I really liked. Surrounded by the extraordinary, the denizens of the town are just regular folks trying to get by.

I’ve thought about this a lot and if I had to classify this novel as anything, it would best be described as an American Gothic modern-day fairy tale. I know, that’s a lot, but Goodwater’s writing hits all those notes. There are even elements of neo-western thrillers like No Country for Old Men or Hell and High Water hiding in the narrative. Plenty for an avid reader such as myself to enjoy.

The Liar of Red Valley is published by Rebellion and is available now.

My musical recommendation to accompany The Liar of Red Valley is the soundtrack to Hemlock Grove by Nathan Barr. It has a nice, slightly creepy quality the dovetails nicely with the novel’s overall tone.


One Comment

  • russell1200 October 5, 2021 at 1:40 pm

    So is it a completely modern (albeit magical) world? Is the entire world magical? Or just the town? I guess what I am trying to get a sense of is how self-contained the story setting is.

    It sort of sounds like a village version of Tim Power’s “Last Call”.

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