Tasia McFarland might be just another pretty country star on the verge of being over the hill, but she’s also the ex-wife of the President of the United States. So when she dies by a gunshot to the throat during a spectacularly ill-conceived stunt on her latest concert tour, the investigation into her death is anything but simple. For one thing, no one is quite sure whether the singer, previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, committed suicide or was murdered. And then there’s the cryptic song lyrics Tasia left behind, words that seem to hint at an assassination threat not only to her but also to her ex-husband.
It’s convenient that forensic psychologist Jo Beckett happens to be in the audience for Tasia’s final, fatal concert, because she’s about to be brought into the investigation by her friend Amy Tang, a San Francisco Police Department homicide detective. Jo’s job is to analyze the dead woman’s psyche, to look into her medical and behavioral history, her legacy of written work, and her relationships with friends and family, to determine what might have led to the singer’s death.
As Jo delves into Tasia’s life, she finds it’s full of contradictions; Tasia was the ex-wife of a liberal president but has since been a regular poster on anti-government conspiracy-theorist websites. She adores her fans but hides the fact that she’s being stalked via email. Jo has plenty of people to talk to --- Tasia’s sister, her biographer, her lover and bandmate --- but when the picture they paint is far from clear, she’s not sure where to go. And when Tasia’s friends start showing up dead, Jo and Tang begin to suspect that Tasia might not have been the ultimate target. Meanwhile, when everyone involved in the case begins to run into trouble with the Feds, Jo wonders if the President himself is trying to derail the case or he has something to hide.
Meg Gardiner, who achieved fame in the United Kingdom long before she won an Edgar Award in this country, proves herself wickedly adept with plot twists and turns in THE LIAR’S LULLABY. Playing with readers’ expectations without ever seeming manipulative, her plot shifts will have readers flipping backward --- and relentlessly reading onward --- to figure out what they might have missed and to propel themselves forward to find out what happens next.
Of course, plot twists and red herrings by themselves do not a great suspense novel make; in her third Jo Beckett book, however, Gardiner also demonstrates her facility at engaging readers’ sympathy for her characters. In particular, the prickly but vulnerable Amy Tang is a fascinating supporting character who continues to be developed over time. In addition, Jo’s developing relationship with Gabe Quintana --- two damaged souls who are finding healing in each other --- continues to grow in depth and complexity.
Plot twists and mounting suspense get people to race from the start of a book to the end, and complex characterizations and dynamic situations keep them coming back. Thanks to Meg Gardiner’s skill at both, her readers will be anxiously waiting, eager to devour whatever this talented writer comes up with next.
Reviewed by Norah Piehl on December 30, 2010