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Her Dark Lies


Her Dark Lies

It opens with an invitation to attend Jack Compton and Claire Hunter’s wedding, which will take place on the beautiful Isle Isola off the coast of Italy. The location is the clifftop villa of the wealthy Compton family, and it definitely has some history. Given the novel’s title, HER DARK LIES, it will be difficult not to look suspiciously at every female character in the story, both past and present. You know you are in for a wild ride with this opening line from chapter one, “Beginnings and Endings”: “She is going to die tonight.” I love symmetry, so I appreciate that the last chapter is titled “Endings and Beginnings.”

We begin to learn about Claire’s troubled past and the family she is planning to marry into, which has built their wealth primarily in the computer technology business. Claire is fortunate to have a rich husband who can support her as she tries to make it as a gallery artist. Wherever Jack goes, so goes his two bodyguards, Malcolm and Gideon. They have a huge opportunity to earn their keep when Jack and Claire are attacked by an intruder, who is shot to death. Malcolm takes responsibility for the shooting, even though the reader knows that Claire pulled the trigger.

"The last portion of the book is a true psychological roller coaster as the body count rises and terror lurks around every corner.... It is so obvious that the great J.T. Ellison, always a master of plotting, had a ton of fun creating this puzzler."

There are many secrets and lies throughout the novel that keeps the suspense at a steadily high level. What is not a secret is that Jack was married before; his first wife, Morgan, allegedly died in a boating accident. Claire has no reason to doubt this, yet she swears she sees the outline of a woman wearing a flowing scarf atop the mountain villa as the ferry boat approaches Isle Isola for the wedding festivities.

Shortly after the family begins arriving, the skeletal remains of a human body is uncovered during a restoration of the area. DNA confirms that the bones belong to Morgan, which casts a bit of a shadow over the wedding. Claire is positive that Jack and his loved ones are acting oddly about the discovery, so she begins to do her own investigation of the staff and other family members to find out exactly what happened to Morgan and what type of person she was.

Strange occurrences take place before the ceremony. Notes received via text, email and hard copy are found by Jack and Claire with cryptic messages like “Don’t you miss me, darling?” Claire’s wedding dress is ruined by a patch of blood that spells out a slur blended into the interior lace. It is even creepier when the replacement gown ends up being the same one that Morgan had worn. It feels like these characters came directly from an Agatha Christie novel --- and when people on the island begin to die, some horrifically, readers get the sense that Isle Isola has turned into Soldier Island from Christie’s AND THEN THERE WERE NONE.

Some of Claire’s fears are assuaged when she signs the prenuptial agreement and finds out that she will be in possession of 30% of all that Jack owns, even the villa itself. Right on the heels of that, the Comptons are threatened by a white-collar criminal who has hacked into the company servers and is blackmailing them. Jack is targeted specifically with this message: “You have twenty-four hours to tell them what you’ve done, or I will.”

Ellison never allows us to catch our breath as waves of new revelations crest upon us chapter after chapter. While Claire is excited about selling one of her most expensive paintings, the family is alarmed when they learn that the buyer gave the name of a deceased woman. The video recognition software they use to try to identify this mysterious individual provides distressing results. They all believe that the hacker and the purchaser are one and the same, but is something else going on that Claire is completely unaware of?

The last portion of the book is a true psychological roller coaster as the body count rises and terror lurks around every corner. A final confrontation in the crypt underneath the villa is especially terrifying and will have readers on the edge of their seats throughout. The fact that it rains and storms the entire time only adds to the confining backdrop of the isolated setting and increases the creepiness factor to an almost unbearable level.

When a psychological thriller is done right, as it is here, the number of twists, lies, secrets, untrustworthy characters and/or narrators, and time jumps should confound readers to the point where you have no chance of figuring out how it will all wrap up. You simply just buckle up and go along for the ride. It is so obvious that the great J.T. Ellison, always a master of plotting, had a ton of fun creating this puzzler. Hopefully her fans and readers of the genre will enjoy it as much as I did.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on March 19, 2021

Her Dark Lies
by J.T. Ellison