Lisa Unger,
Beautiful Lies
(Three Rivers, 2006)

Ridley Jones is a freelance journalist, starting to build a good reputation in her field, and she had a generally happy childhood, growing up in a well-admired family. One day, as she is walking in downtown New York, she spots a momentarily unattended toddler stepping toward oncoming traffic. Ridley jumps in and saves the little boy and a passerby catches the entire thing on tape. Ridley gets her 15 minutes of fame on all the local news broadcasts, then returns to her quietly successful life. That is, until she receives a note and an old newspaper clipping in the mail from someone who recognized her on television, and Ridley's entire identity is thrown into question.

Ridley cannot ignore the possibility that everything she has always thought to be true, might just be a web of "beautiful lies." She digs and digs, to the dismay of her family and her one-time fiance (and still best friend), Zack. Concurrent to this unfolding mystery, Ridley meets Jake, the handsome (in a "bad boy" way) new neighbor upstairs in her apartment building and, as they fall quickly in love, Jake helps her investigate her past. The more they look, the more they find, and most of it is not pretty. Who are Ridley's parents, really? Is her brother, Ace, really her brother? Who is Christian Luna, and why does he encounter a disastrous event, just as the truth might be revealed? What role did Ridley's "Uncle" Max play in her past?

Just as Ridley is about to figure something out, new facts put everything back into question. And, is Jake the knight in shining armor he seems to be? Ridley also has to decide if she wants to know the truth and possibly turn her world upside-down (and maybe get herself or loved ones incarcerated or killed), or listen to her family and to Jake, who want her to dismiss the whole "bizarre" possibility and return to her comfortable, successful life.

I am reluctant to write more on the plot, as it would be difficult to do so without ruining the mystery.

This is a complex, convoluted mystery, with credible, three-dimensional characters and amazing, but still credible, twists and turns. Blind alleys suddenly develop doorways, and newfound promising doors lead nowhere. On several occasions, I thought that I had figured out at least part of the puzzle, but I was right only about one-quarter of the time (which seems to me to be just about the right percentage to turn a mystery into a hard-to-put-down mystery).

This is a well-written page-turner of a mystery that has more credibility, complexity and literary quality than most mystery-thrillers on the market. My first impression was that it was just a story about a woman surprisingly discovering that she might have been adopted. It is much more than that. I am glad this book found me, and I look forward to Unger's next book, Sliver of Truth, which is on its way to me as I write this.

I highly recommend this mystery to anyone who likes the premise of someone trying to find out if he or she is who he or she always believed. This is a good read even for those who are not big readers of mysteries.

review by
Chris McCallister

19 May 2007

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