Review of Lies: Secrets Can Kill by Linda Lovely


Set in Keokuk, Iowa in 1938, Lies gives a deeply felt portrait of life during the Great Depression, especially a woman’s life. At a time when a married woman working was frowned upon, Cat Reedy Black is seen as taking a job a man could have had. She’s a math whiz, able to do her job in a bank better than most men (or women) could, and a bit of a social outsider for reasons not only related to her work, but her poor choice of a husband, and simply being herself when “brainy” was not cool for women and girls. Early in the book she reflects on how there is something noble about numbers, how true and reliable they are compared to people. As the story progresses, the reader learns Cat has good reasons to feel this way.

The police officer protagonist, Ed Nelson, is working for a dangerously corrupt place chief, and has his own agenda for doing that job. The intersection of Ed’s and Cat’s stories begins when someone murders her husband.

A love story and some humor between friends keep the novel from being overly dark, but this is a serious look at American history and the pervasive sexism that our society took for granted as simply the way things were not so long ago. The interaction of poverty, fear and corrupt power is shown with insight and compassion. The setting is alive, the town real in every detail, from its sounds and smells to its culture and expectations. This complex sense of place is one of the book’s greatest strengths. The plot is paced relentlessly and tightly constructed, with a knock-out finale in a dramatic setting. It would make a good movie.

The only thing I didn’t like was the author’s choice to show a number of scenes from the point of view of an unnamed, vaguely described antagonist. This is a common and accepted convention, done by many writers, but it’s a device I’ve never cared for even when as well-written as it is in this book. It’s soon clear who this character is, so withholding the identity didn’t seem necessary.

This is a suspense novel more than a mystery, a race against time between killers and potential victims. The question isn’t “who-done-it” but “will they do it again?” I recommend it highly and readily forgave the occurrence of one my personal pet peeves. It kept me up at night, and its characters and issues are well worth your reading time.

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