The Liar, by Nora Roberts

>> Sunday, June 21, 2015

TITLE: The Liar
AUTHOR: Nora Roberts

PAGES: 512

SETTING: Contemporary US
TYPE: Romance

Shelby Foxworth lost her husband. Then she lost her illusions...

The man who took her from Tennessee to an exclusive Philadelphia suburb left her in crippling debt. He was an adulterer and a liar, and when Shelby tracks down his safe-deposit box, she finds multiple IDs. The man she loved wasn’t just dead. He never really existed.

Shelby takes her three-year-old daughter and heads south to seek comfort in her hometown, where she meets someone new: Griff Lott, a successful contractor. But her husband had secrets she has yet to discover. Even in this small town, surrounded by loved ones, danger is closer than she knows—and threatens Griff, as well. And an attempted murder is only the beginning...

I've long been a Nora Roberts fan, although there were periods where some of her books went in directions I didn't like (e.g. her 'glitz and glamour' single titles in the late 80s early 90s). Nora and I kind of are in a period like that now. The In Death books are still hitting the spot, but I haven't been in love with her latest few single title Romantic Suspense novels, nor with her latest trilogy. I still read them them, though, and I picked up The Liar soon after it came out.

Shelby Pomeroy married very young. Her husband was a rich, powerful asshole type, and he gradually undermined her and isolated her from her close-knit Tennessee family. Four years after the wedding, Shelby feels she's worthless and stupid and can't do anything right. Richard doesn't abuse her physically, but he does in every other way, and he controls every detail of her life.

And then the yacht in which Richard was taking a holiday sinks in a storm (Shelby and her young daughter, Callie, were supposed to be with him, but Callie got sick and Richard decided to go on holiday on his own, which tells you a lot about the relationship!). His body is never recovered, but it's clear enough to the authorities that he's dead that Shelby gets the power of attorney necessary to deal with his business (would this happen? Not sure, but I wasn't too bothered and just read on). And when she starts looking into Richard's financial affairs, which she knew absolutely nothing about, she gets a surprise. Their entire life is basically a house of cards, built on massive debts.

And it turns out that this is not the worst of it. It soon becomes clear to Shelby that Richard wasn't simply a crap businessman, but a criminal. And when Shelby decides to move back to her family in Tennessee, the trouble he created follows her there.

I have mixed feelings about The Liar. I enjoyed a lot about it, but there were several major niggles.

I liked how the core of the book is about Shelby building a life for herself after her emotionally abusive marriage. It all starts out with a bit of over-the-top competence porn, as she sells off everything she can to begin paying the massive debts Richard's left her with. This was done in excrutiating detail, but it did establish who Shelby was (as did the fact that she's determined to pay this debt that she could probably have got out of quite legitimately... I know I would have not done what she did). Once she's back in Tennessee her rebuilding is better integrated into the story and the romance, but just as impressive. And it's not just about rebuilding a material life, it's also about rebuilding the relationships that have been damaged by neglect. I particularly liked seeing her tending to her relationship with the woman who used to be her best friend and who was really hurt when Shelby basically cut off communications.

The romance was also nice (much nicer than the fact that I haven't mentioned it up to now might indicate). Griff is your typical Nora Roberts hero: hunky, beta, works with his hands, and is completely bowled over by Shelby the minute he sees her. He's also almost as bowled over by Callie. There's not much internal conflict here, beyond a half-hearted "how can I trust a man again after what Richard did" moment from Shelby, which means the romance is pretty low-key. However, I did like it, and I loved that Griff supports Shelby's rebuilding but doesn't seek to take it over and do it for her.

And now we come to the niggles, and the first is Shelby's family. I had some trouble with them. Part of it, I suspect with embarrassment, might be internalised snobbery on my part. But not all. They are nice, but they felt to me like the kind of "traditional" people who would disapprove of vegetarians and think they're doing it for the attention -you know what I mean? Shelby's mother and grandmother also constantly police her femininity, which got my back up. It's all aggressively heteronormative. Nothing wrong with conforming to societal norms if that's actually what brings you satisfaction (and I did buy that this was the case for the characters here), but I tend to prefer a little bit more subversion in my stories. I did like that Shelby was disturbed by the constant "I'm glad Griff is now taking care of you" from everyone, and that she does save herself in the end, but it wasn't enough.

Another thing that put my back up is how the town is portrayed. It's presented as a wonderful place, somewhere where Shelby can be protected and where people have got her back, but what I couldn't help but see in that was the unfairness of it. It's the way you only get that wonderfulness if you are an insider, "one of us". As an outsider, you don't even get your basic rights respected. Take, for instance, a character who's a private detective and is looking at Shelby. Thinking about it from his point of view, Shelby is suspicious and there's a good chance she knows what her husband did with the money (I mean, a woman living with a man for 5 years and honestly having no idea what he did for money? Hmmm). Investigating her is perfectly legitimate. The guy's actions in coming into her house on false pretenses at the beginning were questionable, but once he follows her to Rendezvous Ridge and starts asking people about her, it's all completely above board. And yet what the guy gets for his troubles is Shelby's cop brother harassing him and forbidding him from doing his perfectly legitimate job, under threat of being thrown in jail (because the judge is a distant cousin, and won't look kindly on someone doing something that upsets his sweet cousin Shelby). I cry foul, especially because there's zero awareness that this is a problem.

I also didn't think the suspense plot was great, mainly because the big surprise is just incredibly predictable, to the point that I'm almost sure that revealing it here wouldn't be a spoiler. Surely we as readers are meant to know that in a book, if someone dies and his body isn't found, they're obviously not actually dead? I get the feeling, though, that it's meant to be a surprise. There isn't a knowing tone in how it's written, it's dead serious. To be honest, I kind of thought less of Shelby and Griff's intelligence for never even thinking of it, even when things about Richard started being revealed. And Richard himself didn't feel particularly believable, especially in the final confrontation. Too much of a cartoon villain.

Finally (and this will seal my status as a total grinch) every time little Callie came on I felt I was in danger of going into a diabetic coma.

MY GRADE: I'm hovering between a C+ and a B-. I think it's a B-, as the issues I had with it didn't really ruin my enjoyment.


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