Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Review: Let Me Lie

By Jami Deise

Like most thriller fans, I began reading them at an early age. One of the first books I read in the genre was Mary Higgins Clark’s debut, Where Are the Children? Clark’s heroine, Nancy, had a husband who committed suicide by jumping off a bridge and leaving behind personal items. His body was never found. Even though I was only nine years old when I read the book, I wondered why everyone took at face value that Nancy’s husband was actually dead. There was no body. Couldn’t he have just faked his death?

British author Clare Mackintosh’s third book, Let Me Lie (read my reviews of her first two books, I Let You Go and I See You) solidifies her standing as a thriller writer worth following. However, a thriller writer must be careful not to fall into two traps: One, relying so strongly on what has worked in previous books to fool readers in the same way. And two, forgetting that thriller readers are quite savvy—definitely more savvy than thriller protagonists—and drawing out clues that readers will quickly pick up on. Like Where Are the Children?, Let Me Lie also features characters who commit suicide by jumping into the sea and leaving behind personal items but no actual bodies. And thriller fans—even nine-year-olds—will immediately wonder why no one questions whether the dead are actually dead.

Mackintosh’s protagonist is Anna Johnson. It’s her parents who separately committed suicide, seven months apart, by jumping off the same cliff. When the novel begins, it’s Christmastime, and around the first anniversary of Anna’s mother’s death. (She jumped second.) Anna has lived life at warp speed since then, moving into her parents’ house, trying to run her parents’ car dealership with her Uncle Billy, falling in love with the therapist she saw to get over her grief, and having a baby girl. Even with all the activity around her, the anniversary accentuates the grief and guilt Anna has been carrying around. And then, on the actual day, Anna opens the door to a card reading “Happy Anniversary! Suicide? Think again!”

It seems like a cruel joke, and I immediately jumped to the conclusion that Anna was being told that her mother had staged her death. But Anna thinks it’s murder. She takes the card to the police, and retired detective Murray Mackenzie—now manning the front desk—takes her case. He can’t do it officially, of course, since he’s retired, but he knows that if he refers it to a detective, it will be tossed in the circular file.

Anna and Murray are both point-of-view characters, along with Anna’s mother, who could be narrating from the great beyond, or not. It’s a slow start, with a lot of back story and characters – Anna’s boyfriend, her mother’s goddaughter, Uncle Billy, Murray’s personal life—and it took awhile for me to get into the story.

Then Murray proves his worth, and he begins to figure things out just as events start heating up for Anna. The pacing takes off, plot points start to click, and the story starts to work.

Mackintosh made a name for herself for pulling off one of the greatest twists in the genre in the past few years in I Let You Go. So as I read Let Me Lie, in the back of my mind I tried to figure out what this book’s twist could be, if any.

I thought I did. But I was wrong. Again, Mackintosh plays with the unspoken assumptions and expectations about gender. Her sleigh-of-hand is so careful, I didn’t realize what she’d done until the implications exploded across the page. In this case, the author didn’t fall into a trap of relying on previous tricks. She let her readers fall into it while she kept going.

Bravo, Ms. Mackintosh.

Let Me Lie has a bit of a slow start, and I honestly didn’t find Murray as compelling as the other (female) detectives in Mackintosh’s first two books. But stick with it. She’ll surprise you.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.

No comments: