It’s a Mystery: “You couldn’t betray someone efficiently if you didn’t love them first”

It's a Mystery Irma Heldman.jpg

Sweet Little Lies
By Caz Frear
HarperCollins, 2018

sweet little lies book cover.jpg

Meet Detective Constable Cat Kinsella, the indomitable, feisty heroine of British author Caz Frear’s splendid debut. Right off the bat we learn that 1) she’s no longer “daddy’s girl”. She’s estranged from her father, Michael, a serial adulterer as well as a deceptively charming ne’er-do-well. 2) She is seeing a shrink every Monday for the next eight weeks.  This is because she’s wrestling with how she reacted (badly?) to a blood-soaked three-year-old girl she found brushing the hair of her horrifically mutilated mother.

Cat is part of London’s Metropolitan Police Force—“the Met”—who has just begun working on a murder case that she soon discovers might have an eerie connection to her past. Back to the summer of 1998, when she was eight and on vacation with her family in Mulderrin, Ireland. A local beauty, 17-year-old Maryanne Doyle, turned the heads and caught the eyes of all the men and boys in the small village, especially Cat’s father, who Cat sees flirting outrageously with Maryanne. Only later, when Maryanne disappears without a trace, he denies that he ever had any contact with her. It’s a lie that changed Cat’s relationship with him forever.

The murder victim is Alice Lapaine, thirty-five years old, a married, part-time pub chef. She lived on a private island on the Thames with her husband Thomas. When Cat and her partner DS Luigi Parnell go to question Thomas at home, they already know that he hasn’t seen his wife for four weeks and that, oddly enough, this wasn’t a cause for concern. Plus, he talks about Alice as though she was a saint. As Cat observes, “The martyrdom of the dead is the bane of a Murder detective’s life. It’s hard to pinpoint the truth when people are too busy polishing the halo.”

As Parnell and Cat’s investigation heats up, they unearth evidence that ties Alice to the still missing Maryanne. This leads to the discovery that Alice isn’t who they thought she was. As her real identity surfaces, it exposes the secrets Cat has tried to keep hidden. Her fears about her father resurface. Could he be a killer? How much should she tell the powers that be about him? Why, after all that’s happened, does she feel she must protect him?

Sweet Little Lies is a multilayered, complex novel that explores how the sins of our fathers reflect upon us in an entirely new way. It exposes the seamy underbelly of Irish society and its tawdry connection to London’s criminal class. Frear lays bare all the ways that dysfunctional families guard their family secrets and the havoc they wreak upon each other to keep it that way.

The case takes many twists and turns before winding up with one of those double whammy surprises so dear to the hearts and minds of readers like me.  Cat is as fascinating as she is likable, prickly, flawed and thoroughly believable. I can’t wait for her next adventure.

Irma Heldman is a veteran publishing executive and book reviewer with a penchant for mysteries. One of her favorite gigs was her magazine column “On the Docket” under the pseudonym O. L. Bailey.