Books

Rachel Howzell Hall’s new thriller ‘We Lie Here’ reviewed

‘We Lie Here’ by Rachel Howzell Hall. Thomas & Mercer, 432 pages, $24.95

Family dynamics play a vital role in mysteries — sometimes the people who are supposed to love you the most, don’t. And everyone has a family — good, bad, indifferent or missing.

In her eighth novel, Rachel Howzell Hall again turns to families in the clever, tightly plotted “We Lie Here.” She looks at the lengths people will go to be loved by those whose unconditional love should be a given and how people sometimes destroy those they should love. Hall also looks at how so many of us don’t know about our parents’ lives before they had children.

These family dysfunctions run parallel to the mystery as “We Lie Here” uncovers some wrenching secrets.

Screenwriter Yara Gibson is back at her childhood home in the high desert town of Palmdale, Calif., about 60 miles north of Los Angeles, where she has established a career and a solid relationship with a man who truly loves her. But in Palmdale, the anxiety-ridden, asthmatic Yara is even more upset than normal. She truly believes she is allergic to Palmdale and that the town is trying to kill her with its frequent dust storms and violent gangs, not to mention her mother’s cigarette habit, heedless of Yara’s health.

Yara has returned home to run her parents’ 20th anniversary party that she has planned and is paying for. She steels herself for the worst of behavior from her family. Quickly, long held resentments, vile behavior and those tightly controlled secrets kick in.

She argues with her younger sister, her father is moody and her mother, oh mother, is dominating, never allowing a moment or a minor action to go uncriticized. Yara believes — or at least hopes — her mother loves her but doubts the woman likes her.

Then a second cousin she didn’t know existed shows up and gives Yara a cryptic message: “I have information that will change your life.” A couple of days later, that cousin is murdered.

Hall’s knack for making each character believable again shines in “We Lie Here.” The Gibson family’s myriad personalities never stray from realism as Hall’s sharp plotting keeps the story’s twists evolving.

Hall has proven to be an author to watch with “We Lie Here,” sealing that reputation even more.

‘Late for His Own Funeral’ by Elaine Viets. Severn, 240 pages, $28.99

The rich are different from you and me — an adage proved time and again in Elaine Viets’ enjoyable series about death contempt Angela Richman, who works in the fictional Chouteau County, Mo., where the 1% of St. Louis’ wealthy live.

But this enclave of the rich, and sometimes infamous, isn’t without its scandals; it’s just that money opens a lot of doors and protects those behaving badly. Well, sometimes.

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The man “Late for His Own Funeral” is Sterling Chaney, a perpetual drunk and womanizer whose money insulates him from just about everything but death. He wrecked his fancy Porsche and is being buried in the ostentatious coffin he requested, overseen by Camilla, his estranged wife who is also Angela’s close friend.

But during the funeral, Sterling makes a dramatic entrance, claiming he was in the Bahamas on a business trip. (That so-called business included the company of a blonde.)

Sterling enjoys a round of TV and print interviews about how he was “Late for His Own Funeral.” While Sterling’s resurrection is hailed by his loathsome friends, those same friends, especially their wives, quickly turn their backs on him when the source of his endless wealth is exposed. A couple of days later Sterling really is killed in his fancy car — this time a Ferrari — and Camilla is arrested for tampering with his automobile.

Angela puts her job and reputation on the line as she tries to prove Camilla innocent.

Viets delivers a tidy plot as “Late for His Own Funeral” veers into privilege, blackmail and general bad behavior while keeping the twists on point. Viets, who lives in Fort Lauderdale, captures the nuances of her St. Louis hometown, basing Chouteau County on a couple of real neighborhoods.

Angela’s thoughtful investigative skills are augmented by her lightly sarcastic attitude. Angela is the kind of character one would want to be friends with — and certainly on the case should anything happen.

Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at olinecog@aol.com.

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