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During Jane Avery’s shady childhood, truth was always a moving target. Since then, she’s learned that colorful fictions can clean up a lot of life’s messes—and she learned from the best. Her mother, Alexis Avery, is the most imaginatively duplicitous private eye in Denver. When the mother of invention goes missing, Jane knows that only her acquired skills of deceit can solve the mystery.
It’s what aspiring lawyer Jane doesn’t know that’s left her blindsided: for starters, Alexis's latest client—a sleazy and deadly gazillionaire architect whose exploits keep the tabloids in business—and her mother's two-year affair with fellow PI Paul Gladstone. Sure, Alexis has carved out a niche for danger. But this investigation is leading Jane down a rabbit hole of kidnapping, bribery, blackmail, hired assassins, and murder.
Maybe Jane doesn’t know her mother at all. Maybe to find her, Jane has to face the truth. She just hopes she can recognize it when she sees it. It could save both their lives.
Sitting in the kitchen of my mother’s home—a place where every gleaming surface once testified to her calm and orderly presence—tuned my all-encompassing sorrow into a fine, piercing ache at the base of my throat.
All the more irritating, then, when the muscular arm wrapped around my neck.
Private Lies is so much more than a mystery, and it fulfills all of the promise of a work by Cynthia St. Aubin.
Jane Marple Avery is a protagonist you root for, even as you face-palm over her very human foibles. Having a lifetime of lessons from her Private Investigator mother has provided sharp mental reflexes, unconventional skills, and an edge of cynical suspicion of others. St. Aubin could have made Jane a harsher character with that kind of background, but instead, turned the trope on its head. Every remembered lesson given by Alex Avery to her daughter (or once, to Jane's girl scout troupe), has hilarious consequences. Jane's own sense of humor adds to the never-ending stream of lies that erupt from her subconscious to her lips without forethought. The effect of this ranges from confusion to irritation, depending on Jane's audience. It's almost reflexive on her part, but like some odd savant, each lie is perfectly tailored to be mocking, and no one – not even herself – is spared.
The supporting characters are well-rounded, despite the first-person POV. Quite often, this single view in a story blinds a reader to the truths of the other characters, events, and environment. Not so here, as Jane's shrewd observations give a clearer picture. It lends a constant state of dark edginess lurking under the brilliant surface humor. Jane holds no one in a sacred space of trust, especially as she learns more about the tangled mess in which her mother has become involved. This makes everyone a suspect in her Alex Avery's disappearance.
The entire book is a breathless ride. Moments fraught with danger are gift-wrapped with stiletto-accurate belly-laughs, making the serious moments more stark and moving. The twists and turns in the plot aren't the kind with a warning sign. St. Aubin holds each revelation close to the chest until they hit the page with a resounding thud, like a dropped encyclopedia in a silent library. They hit hard and loud, but not as a lazy device to move the story along with a “wtf” moment. As the ripples of each flow out, the supporting clues add credence and evidence of a story crafted with aforethought and detail.
This was a departure from St. Aubin's previous work, but no less satisfying. Her voice is unmistakable - blending humor, witty dialogue, excellent plotting, and prose so good, it would elevate any genre. I highly recommend to fans of Janet Evonovich, and I'm definitely looking forward to the next book!