Audiobook Review: Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 3 of 5 stars
Genre: Thriller, Suspense
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Harlequin Audio (March 9, 2021)
Length: 11 hrs and 54 mins
Narrator: Brittany Pressley
I’ll admit, a huge part of what drew me to Her Dark Lies was several of the story’s similarities to The Guest List, i.e., a remote island, a brewing storm, a wedding party from hell, and people dropping dead from murder. And because of this, I think it’s possible that my lofty expectations were primed for the eventual disappointment. It’s not that this was a bad book, but I do wish that the story had been more original and that the ending hadn’t been such a hot mess.
The novel begins with an introduction to the happy couple. Once a struggling artist, Claire Hunter is about to marry charming and handsome Jack Compton, scion of a multi-billionaire tech tycoon family. Desperately in love, the two of them plan to tie the knot on a private island owned by the Comptons, a small patch of paradise situated in the sparkling waters off the Italian coast. Everything about the highly publicized details surrounding their upcoming wedding seem to come straight out of a fairy tale.
But what no one knows is that both Claire and Jack have secrets hidden in their past. Just days before their wedding, their home gets broken into, and the intruder is shot and killed. Shaken but determined to go ahead with their wedding plans, Claire travels with Jack to his family’s island with a terrible feeling that their troubles have just begun. Sure enough, more disturbing things occur as soon as they arrive. A nearby excavation unearths a skeleton. Claire’s wedding dress is found vandalized with a threatening message written in blood. The Compton’s company servers end up being hacked. The weather reports also say a bad storm is rolling in, cautioning against strong winds and possible blackouts. What more can go wrong?
But wait, there’s more! From the start, Claire has always known about Jack’s first wife, the beautiful and elegant Morgan who had drowned in a boating accident more than ten years ago. He’s asked for them to never speak of her, and Claire has respected those wishes. Now that they’re on Jack’s family’s island though, the shadow of his first wife can be felt stronger than ever. Although Claire has promised not to ask about Morgan, she has been doing her own research on the side, and some things just don’t add up. And then, when the storm hits, the resulting chaos is as bad as everyone expected, getting worse as the first body is soon found.
So, there lot’s to unpack here. Normally, this would be a point in favor of the book, especially a thriller where practically every character has a dark past and something to hide. Indeed, as information begins trickling out about both Jack and Claire, one might begin to wonder which of them is actually sitting on a bigger mountain of secrets or has the more fucked up life. Problem is though, the storytelling style is pretty awkward, with disjointed POV changes and events unfolding through Jack and Claire’s perspectives and one other whose identity I won’t reveal in case of spoilers. I can’t say I was entirely on board with the narrative switches, which I found distracting and slightly confusing.
I suppose the plot was entertaining and suspenseful enough, but at the same time, it was nothing that hasn’t already been done before. The mystery aspect was decent, though not very inspired, and if you’re an avid reader of the genre, you might find a lot of it to be predictable. After checking out some other reviews, I was also relieved to find I’m not crazy—there are definitely elements of this story that call to mind Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, including one particular incident that might have been a clear nod to the infamous dress scene, making me think it cannot be a coincidence. Something to keep in mind if allusions like that are your thing.
Ultimately though, I have to say I was enjoying myself up until the ending, which was when the book lost me. Now, I’ve read enough thrillers that I’d like to think I have a pretty high threshold for suspending my disbelief, but even I thought it was a bit too much. At the same time, everything also played out exactly as I predicted, with stupidly over-the-top twists and all, resulting in this strangely surreal sensation as I was watching it all unfold, and not really in a good way.
Overall, I would put Her Dark Lies squarely in the middle-of-the-road pile as far as thrillers go. Definitely not in the same league as The Guest List, at least for me, but if you’re drawn to some of shared themes and ideas between the two novels, it might be worth a look.
Audiobook Comments: I liked the narrator, but as always when it comes to any story featuring more than one major POV, part of me feels this was a missed opportunity for multiple readers. Still, Brittany Pressley did a great job with her narration, and kept me immersed and engaged.