State of Lies
In a genre inundated with unreliable and unlikable narrators, it was refreshing to read State of Lies and find myself immediately rooting for the heroine. Set in Washington D.C. and revolving around the highest levels of the American government, this novel serves as a timely reminder of just how precious and fragile democracy really is.
It’s a typical weekend for the Brennans, which means they have too little time and far too many errands. It’s ordinarily Georgie who does the home repairs but since their son Sam is sick, it’s her husband Sean who runs to the hardware store that afternoon to pick up supplies to fix a leaky faucet. Many hours later, after she has put Sam to bed, Georgie sits anxiously on the couch still waiting for Sean’s return when the police come to the door and advise her he has died in a car accident.
Months later, Georgie sets out to fix the problem faucet and makes a startling discovery. The part Sean claimed he was taking to the store with him is still there which means that he lied to her about where he had been going that day. Georgie has been in a survival fugue until that moment, trying hard not to think about all she’s lost but she suddenly finds herself wide awake and questioning everything she’s been told about Sean’s accident. A look at the police report reveals the crash couldn’t have happened the way it purportedly occurred, because the street the hit-and-run driver was on doesn’t intersect the street Sean was on. Favorite items that Sean routinely carried with him were never returned by the coroner. An additional search of his possessions reveals that Sean’s computer is missing from his attaché case, along with the security badge for his job at the Department of Defense. Georgie makes phone calls, and sends emails to try to track down answers, but the enigmatic responses she receives just leave her with more questions. More importantly, they paint a very different image of the last few months of Sean’s life than the one he had given her.
Frustrated but uncertain where to turn for the truth, Georgie is contemplating what to do next when Sam leads her to an important clue. While he is running around the yard with a friend, she realizes that the spider lilies they had planted as a family have been removed and replaced with fall crocuses, a type of flower she despises. Digging them up reveals a metal box containing a cryptic notebook with jottings written in Sean’s hand.
No longer certain of who her husband was and concerned as to what he’d been involved in, Georgie determinedly seeks answers to the numerous questions raised by his death. Before long she makes two startling discoveries – she can trust no one, not her friends, her neighbors, not even her politically ambitious parents. The second shocking revelation? Someone is willing to kill her to keep her from learning what Sean was up to.
State of Lies gripped my attention from the start and didn’t let it go till the very end. Ms. Mitchell does a marvelous job of creating and maintaining an atmosphere seething with peril and perplexity. She weaves doubt into Georgie’s every relationship, skillfully isolating her in a menacing, eerie world where she begins to question every aspect of her reality. There is a romance here, which I can’t talk about because of spoilers, but even that contributed to the heroine’s danger and sense of solitude since we aren’t sure we can trust the hero. As I mentioned before, I liked that from the start Georgie was a reliable narrator; it gave me a rope to cling to as I fell down the rabbit hole of high stakes international intrigue with her. I also liked how the mystery was set up: it was obvious once you looked for it but it was so common place and so well blended into the fabric of everything happening around it that it was literally hidden in plain sight.
While this novel is published by a Christian publisher, the text contains sex scenes and makes no mention of faith aside from Sam saying prayers before bedtime. Ms. Mitchell used to write inspirational historical romance so this is a departure from her usual fare.
For those in love with the current psychological thriller market, I should warn that this is not the typical story of the post Gone Girl era, where deeply dysfunctional people take us on a bizarre, terrifying journey into the darkest parts of the human psyche. Georgie is sane, kind, intelligent, honorable and highly moral. The villains here are average people driven by typical desires like greed or need, and while their behavior is horrifying it is also understandable. They aren’t mentally ill, just selfish and I found that chillingly realistic.
On the other hand, I found several other facets of the tale simply unbelievable. One aspect in particular, which I can’t go into here for spoiler reasons, broke my suspension of disbelief. It took a bit for me to get back into the flow of the story after that event because I found it so implausible. The ending also has a twist that borders on preposterous and had me once more eyeing the text with extreme skepticism.
While those imperfections kept me from awarding this novel DIK status, they didn’t keep me from thoroughly enjoying State of Lies. The story reminded me of beloved classic romantic suspense novels written by Sandra Brown, Tami Hoag and Lisa Gardener, so if you are a fan of novels by those ladies, I would urge you to give State of Lies a try.