A July 4th attack on an American embassy in Ankara, Turkey kills just over 250 American and Turkish employees. Among the survivors is Penny Kessler, a twenty-one-year-old intern with the State Department, whom officials deem an important witness to the carnage after a photo of her, bloodied and wrapped in an American flag, goes viral on the internet and various media outlets around the world.
The problem, though, is that young Penny doesn’t remember much about the attack, and what she can recall doesn’t seem to be of any help to the investigation.
The state department sends Frank Lerman and his mysterious assistant to question Penny, who is still in the hospital. Many of their questions have to do with Zachary Robson, a fellow American, and her relationship with him. In truth, Penny had feelings for Zac, that she knows — everything else is murky at best. Evidentally, Zac went missing right around the same time that a bomb planted by Hashashin terrorists detonated. His whereabouts are critical to Lerman’s investigation, and as Penny’s the only link to him, she quickly finds herself in hot water.
Things worsen for Penny when the Turkish prime minister invites her to recover at the presidential palace under the care of the finest doctors in the country. Penny and the state department are initially reluctant but ultimately give in, only for her to discover that she’s less of a patient and more of a prisoner, forcing her to attempt a daring escape. On the run, Penny realizes her best shot at connecting all the dots is to locate Zac, but that’s a big task for the summer intern, who puts on her best Mission: Impossible act, navigating her way through a foreign country with few friends and even fewer resources.
As the story unfolds, Penny uncovers one shocking twist after another, as nobody is quite who they first appeared to be — including Frank Lerman’s assistant, whom she discovers may actually be a CIA operative. Same goes for Zac, but the closer Penny gets to him, the more trouble she finds. Eventually, Penny realizes she’s smack-dab in the middle of a dangerous political game, and one wrong move could cost her everything. . .
August Thomas, using vibrant descriptions and careful wording, takes readers into Turkey from the comfort of their reading chair. Her careful attention to detail really does place the reader in theatre with Penny, creating a level of excitement but also making the story more tension-filled. Her writing is not only top-notch, but it is very similar to early works from Gayle Lynds, the reigning queen of espionage thrillers, with a dash of Charles Cumming’s storytelling style. Parts of the plot might seem a tad over-the-top at times, but Thomas does a terrific job reigning things back in, and her strong prose is enough to persuade any reader to suspend their disbelief for the sake of the story.
2018 is shaping up to be an epic year for debut thriller authors, and August Thomas’ name deserves to be near the top of the list. . . The Liar’s Candle is exciting, complex and full of intrigue. Penny Kessler has the makings of a strong protagonist moving forward, but Thomas is the name to watch closely, as the twentysomething former Fulbright Scholar turns in a brilliant first novel that’ll have readers dying to know what she’ll do next.
Author: August Thomas
Series: Penny Kessler #1
Pages: 320 (Hardcover)
Release Date: April 17, 2018
Book Spy Rating: 8.0/10
Praised as “one of today’s finest book reviewers” by New York Times bestselling author Gayle Lynds, Ryan Steck is the editor-in-chief of The Real Book Spy, and one of the thriller genre’s most well-recognized critics. He currently lives in southwest Michigan with his wife and their six children. For more information, make sure to follow him on Twitter and Facebook!