Her Dark Lies
There are many, many books and blogs dedicated to helping you create a “killer” wedding. For the bride and groom of Her Dark Lies that doesn’t just mean designing a dress to die for and booking a location you’d commit murder for – it means an actual body count.
At the beginning of the tale, we are introduced to an ingénue – the young, sweet, vibrant Claire Hunter – who is engaged to the decade older Jack. An up-and-coming artist, she’s genuine and charming and eager to be married. She adores Jack, and just wants the nuptials– planned for three days later – to go well for his sake. She would have preferred a small, modest, low-key ceremony but realizes that marrying a man from one of the wealthiest families in the world means making some sacrifices, like having a splashy, expensive destination wedding at a European villa.
Jack Compton is deeply in love as well. Married before to a woman who died under mysterious circumstances, he is determined that Claire will be his fresh start – his chance to stop grieving and finally start really living again. As the older and presumably wiser and more sophisticated member of their partnership, he is ready to show Claire the world and teach her how to handle herself in the dangerous, difficult universe of the one percent. He knows his money – soon to be their money – attracts unsavory and unwanted attention so he’s not surprised when they arrive home from their final pre-wedding party and encounter an intruder – the big shock is discovering that Claire can shoot a gun and kill a trespasser as easily as she can chug champagne.
The Compton wealth and influence – as well as a few little white lies – ensure that Jack and Claire are easily cleared of wrongdoing and able to catch their flight to Italy the next morning, where they find a whole new set of disasters waiting for them. Claire’s dress has deliberately been destroyed. The island which serves as the location for their breathtaking destination celebration is experiencing heavy storms and power shortages. A body has just been discovered on the grounds. And the security system upon which the Compton’s computer company has built their considerable wealth has been hacked and someone is threatening to release the information stored there unless an unspecified person in the clan confesses to an equally unspecified crime.
A lesser woman would see all this as an omen and politely bow out of the marriage – or at least postpone it. But whoever is trying to stop the wedding has no idea just how stubborn Claire can be.
Like most books on the thriller market these days, Her Dark Lies is built around the premise that we never really know people as well as we think we do. In this case that means that the Comptons, Claire, and all the guests at this remote, picturesque island getaway (or as I like to call them, murder hotels) have hidden agendas and deep, dark secrets. Being stuck together in a storm at a high stress event naturally brings all that to the forefront. Add in a mysterious, sinister figure waltzing unseen in the background – who no one can find – wreaking havoc and murder and voilà!, you have a mystery novel.
But not a stellar one. This book begs comparison to other recent novels about destination weddings and comes out a bit flat in contrast. Part of the problem is that it gets bogged down by too many – as in too many descriptions of the location, too many people with secrets, too many mistakes made by people who should have known better, and too many pages of text. It’s too long to be tight and twisty and those are the hallmarks of a good thriller.
The story also suffers from a case of ‘too little’. We have too little time with Jack and Claire to believe in a love that survives the kinds of revelations theirs does, too little time is spent with Claire as anything but victim for us to really believe she is as kick ass as we later find her to be, and too little closure – the story wrap-up is done too quickly and incompletely to be genuinely satisfying.
Add to all that some ‘overs’ – as in the overwhelming wealth of the Compton family, the over complicated – and overtly ominous – way the Comptons made said wealth and an over-the-top villain.
Which is unfortunate because with a few tweaks this could have been an outstanding story. The basic plotline – two people deeply in love who are keeping secrets from each other – is intriguing. The author does a fabulous job of creating a beautiful, opulent setting that turns sinister and scary as the story progresses. The prose is smooth, the descriptions eloquent, and I loved how the author mostly uses conversation or other tools – rather than flashbacks – for big denouements.
Ms. Ellison also does a great job with the gothic elements of her story – not just her spooky setting but the innocent heroine, the wealthy family with dark secrets, the enigmatic servants, the haunting, chilling, threatening atmosphere which permeates the tale – all are done beautifully. I especially enjoyed how she modernizes each of these elements through little touches like cell phones, diesel operated generators, and an ingénue who isn’t a virgin, has a past, and knows how to handle herself in tough situations. Claire’s innocence comes not from cluelessness but from a mistaken certainty of the goodness of the people around her.
I also enjoyed the homages to classic gothic novels in the book, like the important moment reminiscent of Rebecca and the aspects of Jane Eyre strewn throughout.
The mixed bag nature of Her Dark Lies – with glaring problems but also some really good features – is reflected in my grade. In terms of recommendations, I would say that if you love gothics and don’t mind a slightly too long, overwrought version of that genre, you might want to give this a read. If you absolutely hate cartoonishly evil villains, give this a pass and try Ms. Ellison’s Tear Me Apart. That book nails all the elements of a psychological thriller and delivers the twist ending beloved of most of us who read this genre.