“All the Beautiful Lies”


“All the Beautiful Lies” by Peter Swanson starts with a death. The previous morning, Harry had received a phone call from Alice, his father’s second wife, telling him that his father, Bill, was dead. Bill was the owner of in Kennewick, Maine and previously in the West Village in New York City. Any novel even remotely related to “Ackerson’s Rare Books” has me interested right from the start.

The police seem to think Bill slipped, fell, and hit his head. However, the unanswered question “Just now did he really die?” hangs in the air. Then something dreadful and unexpected happens. “I’m Travis Dixon with the Kennewick Police Department. And although we are not ruling out an accident, we are presently treating what happened to your father as a suspicious death.”

Conversations drive the action; some are shallow and forced, but all are very real. Everybody in Kennewick seems so normal, so reasonable under the circumstances, but looks can be deceiving, especially in a mystery book titled “All the Beautiful Lies.”  There are many secrets in everyone’s past and there is plenty of guilt to go around. No one is innocent, and no one is safe. Every past action sneaks into the future; nothing ever stays in the past. And then there is Bill’s diary.

The narrative is not linear, and chapters alternate between “now” and “then” to give background on primarily Alice and her relationships with family, friends, and townspeople. Her relationship with Edith, her mother and with Jake, her stepfather is both complicated and strange.

The feel of the seaside Kennewick, Maine setting comes through in the vivid narrative. “It was a slack tide, the water as still and glassy as Harry had ever seen…The view was beautiful, but there was something bleak about staring out to the ocean, as well. All that crushing, grey water that had never changed and never would.”

In the end, every debt had to be repaid, and every wrong had to be corrected. And there was the sea at the beginning, the sea at the end, seawater, cold and final.

I received a copy of “All the Beautiful Lies” from Peter Swanson and HarperCollins Publishers. I have read previous books by Peter Swanson, and this one did not disappoint; it pulled me in. People are not who they seem to be both in their identity and in their relationship to others. It was captivating and gripping.