Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Book Review: Three Little Truths

By Jami Denison

Liane Moriarty is the undisputed queen at the intersection of women’s fiction and mystery, and any author who is compared to her is measured with a formidable yardstick. Amazon and reviewers are comparing international author Eithne Shortall to Moriarty based on her latest release, Three Little Truths. Luckily for readers, Shortall delivers with her tale of three very different women and the cul-de-sac where they live. With its well-plotted mystery, sympathetic characters, occasional humor and domestic setting, Three Little Truths fits nicely onto a bookshelf next to The Husband’s Secret

The point-of-view characters are Martha, who just moved to Dublin’s Pine Road with her family after a traumatic event at their previous home; Robin, a single mother who moved back in with her parents after a fall-out with her dodgy boyfriend; and Edie, newly married to Daniel and desperate for new friends and a new baby, even though Daniel isn’t completely on board. When Edie befriends Martha, she stumbles across her new neighbor’s secret: She moved her family to Pine Road after they were the victim of a home invasion prompted by her husband Robert’s bank job. Instead of going to work and getting the money, Robert turned to the police. He was vetted as a hero and promoted at work, but Martha is having a hard time getting over his willingness to risk his family’s safety.

This backstory is the spine that holds the book together, and the mystery of who was behind the home invasion compels more than one character. The action moves forward at a good clip, and Shortall works in a relevant subplot about girls at the local private school being targeted on a “rape list.” The crisis affects another Pine Road neighbor, Trish, who is the principal of the school, and motivates Martha’s older daughter Sinead, who sees the school’s subdued reaction as another example of how women are expected to overlook shoddy male behavior.

While there are a few stereotypical women’s fiction characters providing comic relief – the PTA president, the Martha Stewart wannabe – overall Shortall does a nice job of mixing the comedy and drama in original ways. However, with so many families living on the cul-de-sac, and with their myriad problems—too many rats and too few parking spaces—it was hard to keep track of the minor characters, and by the end I had just given up. But Shortall crafts a terrific climax at the street’s annual pre-Easter party, mixing all of the characters, elements, and setups for an excellent payoff. 

As much as I loved the book, I didn’t care for the ending. Having made the point that it’s wrong that women are expected to overlook men’s shortcomings, Shortall doubles down on that expectation instead of letting her main characters put themselves first. While this choice results in a peaceful conclusion, it violates one of the cardinal rules of mystery fiction: that the guilty are punished, either through the legal system or by fate. 

Perhaps it’s that I read this book the weekend that Ruth Bader Ginsburg died that the ending feels so wrong to me. In 2021, women should not be expected to keep our mouths shut in order to keep the peace. Fiction should provide the kind of justice that real life is often incapable of delivering. I think Martha’s daughter Sinead would probably agree. 

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

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