Lie to Me: A Novel

  • By J.T. Ellison
  • MIRA
  • 416 pp.
  • Reviewed by Nike Campbell-Fatoki
  • December 7, 2017

This psychological thriller will have you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

The seemingly idyllic married life of authors Sutton and Ethan Montclair is brought to an abrupt halt the day Sutton disappears. But that isn’t even the beginning. Lie to Me starts with this prologue: “You aren’t going to like me very much.” The nagging, unsettled feeling this unidentified character leaves you with never quite goes away.

The discovery of a woman’s body and Sutton’s disappearance set in motion an investigation that unravels a web of lies that predates Ethan meeting his wife. There are, as they say, three sides to every story — his side, her side, and the truth. So it goes with Lie to Me.

Ethan wakes up to his worst nightmare — the vanishing of his wife — on a Tuesday morning. She leaves a cryptic note that simply says she’s been unhappy for a long while and needs some time away. The last thing she writes is that he shouldn’t look for her.

Besides Sutton herself, nothing’s missing except for $50,000 cash from their joint account.

As the story unravels, we learn Ethan isn’t the perfect man after all. The pristine image he projects to the public — that of a doting husband and father — starts to crumble once the police begin to investigate. When a dead body, at initial sighting, is identified as Sutton, Ethan is taken into custody. However, a twist soon throws the local police department into confusion.

The novel soon shifts to Sutton, who has taken on a new identity in France. She rents an apartment and prepares to live a life without Ethan, one solely focused on writing a memoir. But the distance she hopes will free her from her dark past does the opposite. She instead ends up reliving her distant past. When a young American couple is murdered not too far from where Sutton now lives in Paris, she’s brought back to reality — and to a terrifying nightmare.

Lie to Me is wound with plot twists that will have readers biting their fingernails and turning pages until the very end. Author J.T. Ellison has written a realistic tale of family issues and teenage rebellion. She takes us into the lives of authors, their challenges — from harsh critics and social-media backlash to the daily struggles of writing — and how they balance everything while staying true to their craft. She humanizes them, and readers can empathize.

Ellison articulates the thoughts of her characters particularly successfully. As an author, I chuckled at a memory Sutton has of a conference she once attended with Ethan, where the moderator asks if Ethan’s books are more important than his wife’s. Apparently, Ethan, as a literary author, is “creating significant, essential work,” while Sutton, a mere “writer,” is “simply generating entertainment for the masses.”

Ellison hits close to home here. The creative industry in general, which should encourage inventiveness in all forms, looks down on artists who do not meet certain criteria.

The author’s perceptiveness, along with her detailed descriptions of everything from the very American town of Franklin, Tennessee, with its Starbucks around the corner and post office where Sutton almost delivered her son, to exotic Paris make the novel a delightful read.

Woven in suspense, yet scented with the familiar, Lie to Me is a reminder that life can be hell, but sometimes we get second chances.

Nike Campbell-Fatoki is author of the historical-fiction novel Thread of Gold Beads and collection of short stories Bury Me Come Sunday Afternoon. If she’s not in the midst of writing her next novel, she can be found volunteering at Our Paths to Greatness.

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