Talk about timely! With publishing schedules being what they are, Meg O’Brien probably wrote Gathering Lies at least a year ago and yet it brings together two of the most widely reported events in recent history: the television show Survivor and the earthquake that just occurred in the Pacific Northwest.
As suspense goes, this one starts off with some great creepy moments. The prologue prefaces the violence to come and the first chapter foreshadows the problems that will plague the heroine:
I write, now, for no eyes but my own. Every night I obliterate what I’ve written, in fear of having my work confiscated by the police. Days, my fingers hover over the keyboard, ever ready to hit the delete key in the event that what passes for the law should show up at my door.
The author makes the reader feel her narrator’s tension with each careful sentence. Sarah Lansing has come through something bad, and it’s clear that there may be more to come. It certainly works to make for a strong “oh no, what’s going to happen now?” feeling.
The bad thing that sets in motion every other event is a product of Sarah’s job. As a public defender she’s used to the victims of life who become her clients, but when a prostitute tells her that she was raped by several police officers, Sarah finds herself drawn into something that may destroy her career and end her life. The accused police officers won’t take this one sitting down, and very quickly make Sarah’s life so difficult that she is eager to escape in any way possible. The escape route very quickly becomes the scariest thing yet.
Sarah’s always wanted to write and the offer to join a woman writer’s retreat on a tiny island off the coast of Seattle seems like an ideal way to escape her tormentors, if only temporarily. And the relief is temporary. While on the isolated island a devastating earthquake hits the area. The 9.1 quake and the aftershocks that follow destroy part of the resort and make communication with the outside world impossible. The seven women survivors must cope without any of modern life’s amenities. Though they begin to piece together a way to stay alive, their recovery is challenged by the arrival of two men. One is a stranger while the other is a former love from Sarah’s past.
The reappearance of Luke Ford in Sarah’s life resurrects feelings she had thought long buried. He was her first love and she hasn’t seen him since she was seventeen years old. Now, the man he’s become is a stranger to her, one she’s not sure she can trust. Is he somehow connected to the mess that is her life back in Seattle? Ms. O’Brien does a very good job of keeping the reader guessing.
The suspense is two-fold. Will the women be able to survive the natural disaster, and how do these men, and the women for that matter, figure into the danger that threatens Sarah? When someone on the island knocks Sarah on the head, she begins to fear that there’s a connection to the events that led her to the colony in the first place. The earthquake, the lack of contact with the outside world, and the potential danger each of Sarah’s fellow survivors poses to her help to ratchet the tension through the first two thirds of the book. It’s only when the explanations begin that the author loses her audience a bit.
The reason Sarah is on the island and the reason certain events happen in the way they do weakens the otherwise strong plot. It’s hard to get specific without including spoilers, but some of the obstacles put in Sarah’s way are done so simply to prolong the story. The villain, who starts out as very believable, ends on an over-the-top note that rings false. The explanations just don’t do justice to the high level of story telling that characterizes the first two-thirds of the book.
Way back when, I loved a series of mysteries written by this author. They featured a female reporter named Jesse James who could stand on her own two feet, but didn’t mind letting a man into her life. Sarah Lansing has been a little more beaten down by life, but she’s just as tough. Though I will always long for a new Jesse James installment, Gathering Lies, despite the weaknesses in the explanatory elements of the plot, certainly lived up to my expectations of this author.