Book Review: Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger
I happened across the cover of this book as I was browsing e-books in Overdrive and I immediately liked the puzzle pieces, especially the dark nefarious space around them. I decided this book could be my "book based entirely on its cover" choice for my Reading Challenge 2015.
As far as thrillers go, Beautiful Lies is no 1,000 piece puzzle. Between the opening section titled October 25, 1972 and Chapter One, entirely too many details are given away that help the reader piece together the mystery.
Like Caroline B. Cooney's The Face on the Milk Carton, the book has a certain appeal. What if you woke up one day and found out that you were not you? That the people you trusted the most had lied to you? I remember reading Cooney's book and thinking that Janie should really just have a chat with her parents. The tension in Milk Carton really centers around Janie's indecisiveness, which makes for a drawn-out angsty teen whine fest, not a fast-paced thriller.
And even though Beautiful Lies has a car chase, a drive-by shooting, and even a covert meeting in a dark and creepy public park, it too is mostly a whine festival! Oh my god, I need some wine after reading this drivel!
The plot reads like a check list. Like Lisa Unger brainstormed various scenarios that thrillers have in common and she was just moving Ridley Jones from one threatening scene to the next. That covert meeting in a dark and creepy public park? As soon as this meeting was announced, I wondered why the locale was not a cemetery. Well, that amount of telegraphing must have crossed some kind of line for Unger. Because it should have been a cemetery.
My favorite ridiculous plot point, though, had to be the Soup Nazi-like landlady Zelda leading Ridley to a secret basement tunnel as an escape route from police detectives. And as Ridley walked away from Zelda, she saw "Something unidentifiable glittered in her eyes." Unidentifiable glints are Ridley's specialty. She is probably the dumbest protagonist I've encountered in quite some time.
She understands no one. And for a freelance writer, her research skills have quite a bit to be desired. She relies heavily on the men in her life, which really irritates me. Every time something terrible happens, she perseverates between contacting her ex-boyfriend Zack or her new lover/hot guy upstairs neighbor Jake.
Does she not have one single girlfriend who she could call up? Grab a coffee? Discuss these weird details with? Apparently not because she keeps making rhetorical conversation with the reader. Argh! She asks questions like "I mean, clearly that was the message, right?" I've never instituted a lowest common IQ requirement for my friends, but if Ridley expects me to answer her, then I would make an exception.
The fact that she continues to even speak to Zack surprises me. At one point, he uses the key to Ridley's apartment to stop by and check on her. In the morning. While she's in bed with Jake. Seriously? Who breaks up with someone and forgets to get their key back? Or change the locks?
Then Ridley finds out that Zack has essentially been spying on her and reporting her activities to her parents. Who continues any kind of relationship with a completely untrustworthy individual?
I just had no sympathy or interest in Ridley as a character.
Other characters include her overly-protective pediatrician father, her perfectly coiffed WASPish mother, a doting millionaire Uncle Max, a drug addict older brother, a mob lawyer, and a fairly forgettable police detective. None of this character hodgepodge of poorly executed stereotypes seems believable, relatable, or even engaging.
By the time the events of the plot meandered back to the foreshadowed events of Chapter One, I was ready for the men in ski masks to kill Ridley. I knew they wouldn't, but at least it meant the end of the book was near.
I debated giving this book just one star, but Ridley is so incredibly ridiculous as a protagonist that Lisa Unger did make me laugh...a lot. And humor, even if it's not intentional, deserves some credit.
I won't be reading Lisa Unger again.