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This Is How I Lied


This Is How I Lied

Few people escape high school without at least one or two painful memories. But most aren’t dealing with the fallout from their best friend’s murder. Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe is. It’s been 25 years since 16-year-old Eve Knox was found dead in a cave on the outskirts of her small Iowa hometown of Grotto. Her murder was never solved. But when new evidence turns up in the case, it reawakens the investigation, threatening to dredge up long-buried secrets for all involved.

With THIS IS HOW I LIED, the prolific Heather Gudenkauf (BEFORE SHE WAS FOUND) turns in another Midwestern-set thriller that casts an eye on the complex relationships between young women. Now 40-ish and seven months pregnant with her first child, the dogged, practical Maggie has followed her former police chief father into law enforcement. When Eve’s boot is discovered in the Grotto Caves, it’s Maggie, currently “detective number two” in Grotto’s small police force, who steps up to investigate the new lead. Her boss improbably waves away any possible conflict of interest, freeing Maggie to devote her time to finding out what really happened to her best friend, “no matter how sad, how traumatic it will be to relive Eve’s final days.”

"Gudenkauf cleverly manages to keep readers guessing about who really did it until the book’s final pages."

Unfortunately, digging into Eve’s death means that Maggie must tangle with her younger sister, Nola. Nola was a strange, hostile child who has grown into an even weirder adult. Her youthful interest in animal anatomy led her to a career as a vet, though she has some very unusual ideas about proper patient care. Nola’s viewpoint alternates with that of Maggie’s in the present-day sections of the novel. Flashbacks to 1995 offer Eve’s perspective in the days leading up to her murder. Gudenkauf is at her best in these chapters, elevating Eve from mere victim to something far more real and tragic.

Maggie’s reluctance to deal with Nola is understandable. She’s “one strange bird,” as one Grotto resident puts it, and she’s long been suspected of having something to do with her sister’s death. But there’s no shortage of possible killers in this small river town on the edge of Iowa’s farm country. Gudenkauf also introduces Eve’s abusive boyfriend, a neighbor with an eye for young girls, and a mysterious drifter, ratcheting up the suspense as Maggie digs into the case.

However, the real tension is in the cat-and-mouse game between Maggie and Nola. Both of these women have secrets, and neither wants the truth about their past revealed. As a villain, Nola is frightening, even if she does at times drift too far into comically sinister territory, what with her bizarre collection of animal bones and elaborate plans for revenge. Maggie is a more fully realized character. She’s dealing with the trauma of her friend’s death as well as a painful secret from her past, along with all the fears and hopes tied up with her long-awaited pregnancy.

Everyone in THIS IS HOW I LIED is trapped by their troubled history. These characters are unable to move on, either emotionally or physically. All have stayed in (or returned to) Grotto, despite the painful memories associated with the town. Nola and her mother still live in the same house across the street from Maggie’s childhood home, where her father and brother still live. Eve’s abusive ex and the creepy neighbor are still around as well. It’s as if none of them will be able to move on until there’s some closure regarding Eve’s death. And they get that closure in the end, though Gudenkauf cleverly manages to keep readers guessing about who really did it until the book’s final pages.

Reviewed by Megan Elliott on May 15, 2020

This Is How I Lied
by Heather Gudenkauf