Tell Me Lies

Jennifer Crusie
1999 reissue of 1998 release, Contemporary Romance
St. Martin's Press, $7.50, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 0312966806

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Hot

There are two reviews of this book.

Leave it to Jennifer Crusie to take betrayal, murder, steamy romance, and small town secrets and somehow make it funny. Tell Me Lies, a 1998 release now available in paperback, defines the meaning of "having a bad day." This is Crusie's break-out novel, moving from series romance to hardcover, and it combines a complex plot, a multitude of memorable characters, and fever-pitch emotion in one unforgettable book.

Maggie Faraday, Frog Point, Ohio's favorite "Good Girl," is most definitely having a bad day when she discovers a pair of black lace crotchless panties that are not hers under the front seat of her husband's Cadillac. Her husband, Brent, does not top her list of favorite people on the best of days, but this is simply too much. "Good Girl" or not, this calls for divorce, especially since it isn't the first time her husband has betrayed her.

"Bad Boy" C.L. Sturgis is not having a good day, either. He is back in Frog Point after a twenty-year absence to do his ex-wife a favor. His job is to examine the books at the local construction company owned by Howie and Treva Basset, and Brent and Maddie. But first he has to track down Brent to get permission, and Brent is successfully evading him, a near impossibility in a town as small as Frog Point. Things don't look better after he stops to ask Maddie where Brent is, and realizes that the hopeless crush he had on her since the fifth grade is still alive and well.

Maddie's eight-year old daughter, Emily, is not having a good day since she is trying to find a way to get Maddie to let her have a dog, while trying not to think about how tense things are at home between her mom and dad. Treva, Maddie's best friend, doesn't seem to be having a good day, either, but Maddie is too preoccupied with her own problems to find out why, at least at first.

Despite cover blurbs promising murder and mayhem, Tell Me Lies is not a plot-driven story. It is very much character-driven, and the murder doesn't happen until quite late in the book, which in its entirety spans only a handful of days. Ms. Crusie is a master, however, at funny yet realistic internal thought, and the humor and witty dialogue, combined with the occasional unexpected plot twist, make this a page turner. The secondary characters are as well developed as the primary ones, and all have a believable mix of vice and virtue that makes even Maddie's scumbag husband a somewhat sympathetic character. The town of Frog Point is a character in its own right, and anyone possessing experience with tiny towns will appreciate the shrewdly accurate portrayal of gossip, scandal, loyalty, and love. There are no flat stereotypes here, just people.

This book is a celebration of more than romance and gossip. The friendship between Maddie and Treva is a high point, and it's mirrored by the friendship between their two young daughters. The stability of friendship that stretches over the course of a lifetime, and bridges generations, is precious in an age where it has become rare.

Maddie and C.L. are loveable, and it isn't hard to want them together from the start. Maddie's determination to get rid of her "Good Girl" reputation becomes a little extreme, however, and the humor in the role reversal she and C.L. undergo is exaggerated almost to the point of becoming slapstick. The pacing is so fast that there is little time for Maddie's attitudes and emotions to evolve, and she makes some rather major leaps from time to time.

The genuine anguish Emily experiences over her father is a heart-tugging counterpoint to the humor, and serves as a sober reminder that silver linings are still attached to clouds. This adds poignancy to the story, though, and makes the final outcome all the sweeter.

This was the first book of Crusie's that I've read, but it certainly won't be the last. Her humor, definitely "woman's" in nature, ranges from subtle to laugh-out-loud funny, and Jennifer Crusie will be added to my list of authors whose work I turn to when I have a "bad day" of my own!

-- Mary Ann Lien

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