Tell Me No Lies
by Kathryn Shay
(Harl. Super #1359, $5.50, PG-13) ISBN 0-373-71359-2
****
Kathryn Shay is known for her romances featuring controversial issues and complex, well-developed and mature (read older) characters. A marriage-in-jeopardy story, Tell Me No Lies is not a romance in the strict sense. But like Shay's signature creations, it is about finding love, trust and forgiveness when all the odds are against it.

When Tessa Logan was nineteen, she spent two years in prison on manslaughter charges. She has since turned her life around. Happily married with two daughters, she works at a public library and runs a group for troubled teenaged girls at the local youth center. Her husband, Dan Logan, is a district attorney who has just been nominated Citizen of the Year, no small achievement for someone whose father went to prison for embezzlement. Knowing how much he craves respectability, Tessa has never told him about her past. When her former boyfriend shows up after completing his fifteen-year prison term and threatens to expose her if she doesn't go away with him, she is all the more determined to handle it on her own.

I know what this must sound like, but please don't judge this book by its set up. Whatever else Tell Me No Lies might be, it is not another one of those Big Secret story, where a little talking at the beginning could have spared everyone (readers and characters alike) angst, grief and boredom. Sure, Tessa's sordid past and her attempts to cover it up loom large, but more than half of the story deals with what happens once Dan finds out and all but repudiates her. Does her tragic, youthful transgression really warrant his harsh and unforgiving response? Can their marriage survive after her deception and his betrayal? The answer to the second question is yes (obviously! this is a Harlequin publication), but not immediately and not at some cost.

Once the secret is out, the hits keep coming, and they don't stop with both Dan and Tessa on the ground, bleeding. Frankie Hamilton, the old boyfriend, winds up dead, and Dan is the number one suspect. His squeaky-clean life is unraveling.

Going from one disaster to another, the story could have easily sacrificed emotional mileage for fast pacing. Alternatively, it could have quickly veered towards the melodramatic or the saccharine. Shay skirts these extremes fairly well. The succession of events is rarely completely expected, and the characters' conflicting reactions are fully probed. I didn't always admire Tessa's behavior or like Dan's outbursts, but I completely understand them. Their guilt, regrets, despondence and angry are as real as it gets.

This emotional range and plausibility is also true for the secondary characters, whose very different responses provide excellent points of comparison. Even the villain garnered both my repugnance and my sympathy.

Tessa's self-flagellating streak is nevertheless sometimes difficult to take. I also have some tiny objections to one or two plot points, and found the final scene too rushed, and even contrived, given the amplitude of what comes before. But these are minor issues and don't significantly detract from the novel's honest exploration of a very difficult situation. Tell Me No Lies gets a strong recommendation.

--Mary Benn


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