Beautiful Lies by Lisa Unger
(Shaye Areheart, $23.00, V) ISBN 0-307-33668-9
Ridley Jones is free-lance writer living in New York. She makes a good living from her writing, but it is really the inheritance left her by her Uncle Max (a close family friend not a true blood relative) that makes it possible for her to afford her New York apartment. Ridley’s family lives in New Jersey. Her father is a pediatrician. Her adored brother Ace is a drug addict and estranged from the family. Their mother has never quite gotten over his leaving home. Ridley ended her engagement to Zachary, a life-long friend, six months earlier.

Ridley is heading out to meet Zack one Monday morning; she’s hoping their rocky relationship will progress to strong friendship. She’s delayed by two minor, unexpected things so she reaches the street corner at the exact moment that a toddler is nearly run down by a truck. Ridley whisks him to safety. A photographer catches the whole incident on tape, and the tape is subsequently widely shown on television news.

Her short period of fame results in her receiving a mysterious communication. In her mail is a photograph of a man, woman, and child. The woman bears an unmistakable striking resemble to Ridley. The accompanying note reads: Are you my daughter? And there’s a phone number.

Her parents deny knowing anything about the photograph or the people in it.

At the same time the upstairs apartment is rented to a new tenant, an artist who creates metal sculptures. Jake immediately captures Ridley’s interest.

Ridley doesn’t want to pursue the question posed in the letter, but she cannot let it lie. Are her parents hiding something from her? What does Ace know? Has her life been based on a succession of lies?

Written in the first person, Beautiful Lies is Ridley’s book. The focus is her perceptions, her history, her relationships. No other character is so fully developed. Ridley believes that her life to that point has been a mostly charmed one with a loving family and close family ties. The truth gradually revealed is that in fact there have been a number of questionable incidents in the past that hint at more dysfunctional relationships than she has been willing to acknowledge.

Her romantic involvements indicate that she’s quite capable of deluding herself. She drifted into an engagement with Zack partly because she sensed it was what her parents wanted and expected. She becomes physically intimate with Jake almost immediately. Her devotion to Ace is mostly one-sided, and she doesn’t recognize his resentment towards her. Ridley begins to worry that she’s been lied to all her life, but she is equally capable of lying to herself.

A prologue provides hints as to the mystery behind Ridley’s past, but there are a number of surprises in store for the reader before the story’s end. Readers who enjoy romantic suspense novels will definitely want to check out Beautiful Lies.

--Lesley Dunlap

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