David Baldacci has proved his ability to create intricately plotted thrillers with authentic settings and intriguing characters time and again, and his latest, Simply Lies, is no exception.
Mickey Gibson’s promising career with Jersey City Police Department was cut short two years ago when her scumbag of a husband absconded with all the money, leaving her alone with a one-year-old son and another kid on the way. She moved out of the force and the city to be closer to her retired parents, and joined a respected private investigation agency named ProEye as a cyber-sleuth, working from home full-time. Gibson’s difficult-but-tolerable life gets blown to hell one day when a woman calls her, ostensibly on her boss’s behalf, and asks Gibson to urgently go to an old mansion about an hour away – belonging to a shady businessman with whom ProEye has a bad past – to inventory its contents. Welcoming the break from routine, and pleased by the promise of a field bonus, Gibson reaches the said mansion and, during her survey, discovers the body of a murdered man. When the police arrive after she calls it in, they start to treat her as a suspect, because the story about the mansion is completely false, and ProEye has no such employee as the one Gibson claims to have spoken to.
While it does not take long for Gibson to prove her innocence, partly at least, to the police, she senses to have been dragged into something terribly dangerous. Soon enough, the mystery woman calls Gibson again and, with a compelling story, convinces her that finding the murderer is the only way to ensure her own safety and that of her loved ones. Gibson has no choice other than taking up the unwelcome murder investigation, all the while racking her brain as to why the enigmatic woman picked her, and tracks down the identity of the dead man and his background. Connections with long-ousted New Jersey mobs and a ruthless, deadly mobster presently operating in Gibson’s neighbourhood emerge, which makes the case even more perilous for her and her family. Meanwhile, the manipulative woman on the phone who calls herself Clarisse – among other names – has her own problems, staying alive being the most important of those. The game of deception intensifies when another violent murder occurs in a neighbouring state that seems connected to the first one, and the key to surviving it lies in the deeply buried past – a past shared by Clarisse and several others, none of whom is trustworthy. But Gibson must trust people she knows nothing about, and employ all her investigative skills, if she wants to come out unscathed while delivering justice to the few that deserve it.
Simply Lies is yet another triumph for the master storyteller whose form seems to flow unabated. Right from the first scene where the single mother struggles with her two little children while talking on the phone with her boss, Baldacci’s descriptions have a picture-like vividity that never goes away. Mickey Gibson is another smashing character from the author’s prodigious stable: intelligent, resourceful, tenacious, and realistic. Her father, retired cop Rick Rogers, seems like a nice one to have around, as are her adorable little ones – when they are not puking on you. The devious Clarisse demands the reader’s undivided attention with her unpredictable moves and a heart-wrenching backstory. The other characters, from the murdered man to the various law enforcement personnel, are well-crafted too. Baldacci keeps the mystery stretching as much as possible, unravelling it layer by tiny layer, and heightens the tension steadily. His uncomplicated prose, crisp dialogues, and shifting narrative perspectives keep the pages turning by themselves. He brings together the multiple strands of the plot at a perfect pace towards a satisfying conclusion. Sure enough, Baldacci keeps the possibility of further adventures for his latest characters open with the teasing last lines, and I would not be averse to reading about those. Simply Lies is yet another winner; go for it!
My gratitude to Mystery and Suspense Magazine and Grand Central Publishing for the Digital Review Copy of Simply Lies in exchange for my unbiased opinion.
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