Tangle of Lies
I really hope Berkley manages to place Tangle of Lies in airport bookstores, because I think it would be a perfect airplane book. As I read it, it reminded a lot of the paperback thrillers I’ve used to pass the time on flights over the years. Most readers will know the kind of book I mean. It’s nothing particularly meaty and doesn’t have any real staying power. It’s just a fast, entertaining read that kept me dutifully turning the pages until it was over.
For the first time, everything in Liz Connor’s life is perfect, in that way that immediately signals to readers that everything is about to go horribly wrong. She was recently appointed to Santa Fe’s city council. She just finalized the purchase on the business she’s wanted for years. She and her mother, with whom she’s long had a contentious relationship, are slowly growing closer.
Then the FBI arrests her mother, claiming she’s a wanted fugitive they’ve been seeking for years. According to them, Betty Connor is actually Sarah Jane Maynard, a former antiwar protestor who killed two armored car guards 34 years ago while robbing their truck with three accomplices. For Liz, the violent agitator the FBI describes couldn’t be farther from the quiet housewife she’s known all her life. But the evidence is irrefutable. It certainly doesn’t help that her mother refuses to talk to her family after her arrest or do anything to assist in her own defense.
Her mother’s deception isn’t all Liz has to deal with – shortly after the arrest there’s a mysterious fire at Liz’s house that appears to be arson. Someone tries to kidnap her niece from daycare. Then a lawyer working for Sarah Jane’s cousin, a wealthy man now planning a run for Congress, arrives and offers his help, though Liz is suspicious of his true motives. Instead, she finds herself turning to Caleb Adams, a former Boston cop turned private investigator who arrives on the scene. He claims to be writing a book on the robbery and offers to help Liz uncover the truth about this very complicated situation. What he doesn’t tell her is that he’s also the son of one of the guards her mother is accused of killing all those years ago, and that he wants nothing more than to see her and her accomplices pay for their crime.
This is a fast-paced read that gets off to a good start from the first page. There’s no build-up. The author drops the reader right into the story, with Liz receiving a call from her father that her mother is missing. It’s the kind of opening that grabs the reader’s attention and makes sure we’re caught up in the story from the very beginning. There’s a somewhat large cast of characters, all of whom are introduced well so the reader should have no trouble keeping track of who’s who. The author’s writing is strong, and the story steams along with plenty of action and a plot that’s in constant motion. It’s never exactly suspenseful or truly exciting, despite of some effective moments, but it is energetic and complex enough to keep the reader entertained for a few hours. It’s certainly never boring.
After a while I realized I really didn’t care about the characters, which is one aspect that kept it from being a really good thriller rather than just a serviceable one. They’re certainly sympathetic enough within the constraints of the story, but they’re really not interesting or developed enough that the reader is all that invested in them. They kept me sufficiently engaged for the length of the story, and that’s about it. They mostly exist in service to the plot. The author hits all the right notes and their reactions are always believable, yet they lack that extra dimension that really good characters possess. They’re just not deep enough. The romance is reasonably developed, but nothing very emotional or effective. In the end, everything ends neatly, perhaps a little too neatly to be believed, but that’s exactly the kind of ending you want in a good airplane book.
A few years ago I wrote a DIK for Patricia Potter’s Home for Christmas, a book that I actually did read on a long trip and which held me enthralled the entire time. The difference is that book had a level of character development and emotion that made for a deeper, richer read. When I finished it, I knew the characters and their story were something special I’d remember. This book, on the other hand, is simply an efficient pageturner, not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s nothing I’m likely to remember in a week (indeed I can feel it evaporating from memory even as I type this), but for readers looking for a fast, entertaining read that will hold their attention and keep them occupied for a few hours, this will do it.