' erasing clouds book review: sliver of truth
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Book Review: Lisa Unger, Sliver of Truth

by dave heaton

Lisa Unger's 2006 suspense novel Beautiful Lies gained what uniqueness it had from the mystery central to the plot hinging on the main character's very identity. The book followed New Yorker Ridley Jones as she attempted to unveil a mystery bigger than who did what to who – with "Who am I?" as part of the central question. The book was taut, with Unger wisely keeping close to the central concern of identity, and of slowly revealing the greater history of crimes wrapped around it. New York City was pivotally used as a setting, and Ridley Jones was given a believable, fully fleshed-out personality as a freelance writer marked by all the good, and bad, of living in such a fast-paced, diverse, "happening" city.

With a mystery sequel to a book where the main character wasn't in any way a detective (or cop or P.I. or other mystery-finder), there's a danger in how to proceed. As a reader you know 'Ridley Jones falls across another mystery' is going to be the conceit, so it's a bit of a surprise when it isn't, when it turns out that this book is truly a sequel, that the story from the first has found a way to continue on, via a presumed dead character (her biological father, she learned in the first book) who may or may not be alive. It seems a good surprise at first, since it's better than some random, hard-to-believe way of getting Jones wrapped up in another mystery. But as soon as the book starts, it all feels a bit too familiar, too much like a repetition of the first go-round.

At first it's also quite awkwardly introduced as a sequel. Unger seems unsure of how much background to give, so Jones – who, as in Beautiful Lies, is both main character and 1st person-narrator – keeps saying things like "if you remember" and "to those of you were around the first time"…which is really distracting, and (I hate to say, as someone who's never written a book) seems the mark of inexperience. As the plot unfolds, it does so with less suspense than the first book…by a few chapters in, nothing is that surprising. When a mystery male stranger enters the picture, you know he's going to be a new love interest. When the love interest from the last book disappears for the bulk of the book, and doesn't seem quite himself when he is around (not in line with the personality set up originally), it seems all too convenient. The plot takes Jones away from the insular world of NYC, which is a promising change. Yet Unger seems lost as a writer when outside that comfort zone: London seems like a quick caricature, and Detroit is rather rudely dismissed, in that all-too-typical New Yorker's way of misunderstanding the rest of the country. (Even worse, she describes Michigan State University as surrounded by the "ghettoes" of Detroit, even though it's hours away, in East Lansing, essentially a "college-town"-esque suburb to the small industrial city that is Lansing).

Sliver of Truth will keep fans of Beautiful Lies intrigued enough (about what will happen to Ridley Jones, about whether her discoveries in the first book weren't exactly true) to keep reading, yet as a standalone book it seems slight, and even as a sequel it seems awkward, like it's a bridge to a hoped-for series of novels, more than a fully formed novel of its own. I read through it quickly, but with trepidation about the wrong turns the book would continue to take…I kept hoping for something truly surprising, or at least an unsurprising plot turn that was still intriguing, or even handled skillfully enough that it didn't matter how interesting it was. I kept reading, and kept feeling disappointed.

{Sliver of Truth hardcover was published by Shaye Areheart Books; Beautiful Lies softcover from Three Rivers Press}.

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