|Author Hallie Ephron mixes impressive narrative with a profound psychological study in ''Never Tell a Lie.'' (Lynn wayne)|
Hallie Ephron has certainly absorbed the structural and stylistic elements of crime thrillers. Her new book blends a constantly thickening plotline with an impressive narrative energy, mixed together with a profound psychological study of the story's pregnant protagonist, Ivy Rose. "Never Tell a Lie" opens in a seemingly ideal suburban setting, with husband and wife Ivy and David, onetime high school sweethearts, holding a November yard sale at their Victorian home in close-knit Brush Hills, Mass.
As Ivy haggles with weekend bargain-hunters, a visitor from the past interrupts things. Melinda White introduces herself to Ivy as an old high school classmate; she's someone whom Ivy vaguely remembers as an outcast who had "eaten lunch alone in a corner of the high-school cafeteria and been herded to and from school by her mother." An awkward conversation begins, concluding only when David arrives and unenthusiastically agrees to show Melinda around the house. When Melinda disappears soon thereafter, the police start by questioning Ivy and David about their long-forgotten classmate.
Of course, as in most thrillers, nothing in Ephron's story is as it first appears. Ivy is already riddled with anxiety regarding her pregnancy, and the police investigation into Melinda's disappearance only heightens her darkening mood. When David is held by police for questioning, fissures begin opening up in their seemingly perfect marriage. As police find evidence of a mysterious history between David and the missing Melinda, Ivy gazes back darkly at her own relationship with the high school outcast.
Ivy moves slowly from paralyzing fear to active involvement in unraveling the mystery of Melinda's disappearance and her husband's possible role in it. Ephron, who writes a column on mysteries for the Globe, gradually reveals this change, first showing us Ivy's despair as she waits for news of David: "Ten o'clock. She found herself sitting on the edge of a chair in the kitchen, the crocheted afghan still wrapped around her, jittery and alert to the house's every sound." When camera crews descend on Ivy's home after David's arrest, she feels under siege: "These people were trying to burrow in through the walls of her home, into the pores of her skin. This was her home, where she was supposed to feel safe."
Ivy discovers that Melinda has been obsessed with David since he was a quarterback in high school. She looks back at her own adolescent relationship with Melinda: "In truth, she'd never thought one way or another about Melinda or her feelings. She'd been every bit as callow and mean as her classmates, just more passive about it." The story deepens when one of David's former football teammates tells Ivy about an incident at a local bowling alley where Melinda drank beer with the football team and may - or may not - have been raped.
All the while, Ivy is on the verge of going into labor. Ephron moves her story away from a case of suspected murder to a case of revenge by a scorned woman who's never forgotten her former mistreatment. Readers get just enough revelation to keep them on the narrative hook, eagerly turning the pages. When the climax comes, it seems perfectly timed and intensely right. Suburban noir has rarely been done with such psychological insight or plot-twisting suspense.
Chuck Leddy is a freelance writer who lives in Dorchester.