Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Last Lie, by Stephen White

Since starting this blog, I have been whining pretty much incessantly about series mysteries. Imagine my surprise when I began this year with a series mystery that I really enjoyed--The Last Lie, featuring Boulder psychologist Alan Gregory. I've also enjoyed this series because of the Boulder setting--Alan eats breakfast at Lucile's, where my friend Lynn's husband is the executive chef. For some reason, that adds to my enjoyment! Occasionally, I've quibbled with the plotting in White's series, and this book is definitely long on convenient coincidences, but they did not interfere with my enjoyment.

Two story strands become entwined in The Last Lie. New neighbors have moved into the house that once belonged to Alan's late friends Adrienne and Peter (parents of Alan and Lauren's adopted son Jonas). Alan and Mattin, the male half of the wealthy couple who bought the house, get off to a bad start when Mattin complains about Alan's beloved dog Emily roaming around Spanish Hills off leash. The neighbors seem destined to become important characters in the book, as their renovations promise to be difficult for Alan and Jonas, who are still grieving Adrienne's death.

In the other strand, Alan is supervising the practice of a young psychologist, whose skills are being challenged by one patient--a young widow who is struggling with her grief. The insight White provides into the process of supervision is very interesting (perhaps appealing to the same curiosity that makes In Treatment one of my favorite shows ever). When the young widow reports being raped after attending a housewarming at Alan's new neighbors (perhaps you begin to see what I mean about coincidences), Alan is walking a very fine line as he gathers information from his supervisee, his assistant DA wife, and his cop friend Sam Purdy. While he believes he is only doing what is necessary to make sure his family is protected and does not think he has a conflict of interest, the fact that he finds himself lying more than he is comfortable with signals the ambiguity of his position.

There are other coincidences (you might think Boulder was a town of 10,000 instead of 100,000) and more violence, as well as Sam Purdy's somewhat lengthy parables about how the maneuvering of lawyers subverts the justice system. But it was the psychological aspects of the story that kept me interested.

Favorite passage:

". . . dear Lord, behavior like that would have been tawdry, wouldn't it?"

I laughed. "Did you say tawdry?"

"Other than that one time I was in New Orleans, where it just seems so natural a word, I get few opportunities," Sam said.

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