Heather Gudenkauf has a loyal following of fans and it is easy to see why. Each of her novels feature strong women in challenging situations with plots that grab you by the throat as they simultaneously tear out your heart. Gudenkauf has the unique ability to breathe life into all of her characters; not simply the lead protagonists, but every single person that graces the pages of her work. Readers become invested in the outcome and in the process learn that each of us is flawed, albeit some worse than others. Take This is How I Lied for example: this rich tapestry of characters and events weave together a story that exposes the multitude of ramifications wrought by toxic behavior and how everyone can get caught up in playing the blame game.
In 1995, Eve Knox’s body was found by her best friend Maggie and Eve’s younger sister Nola, hidden within the cave system surrounding Grotto, Iowa. Despite some strong suspects, the case went unsolved and the trust around town was shattered. Twenty-five years later, Maggie is now a detective and a newly-discovered piece of evidence thrusts her into heading up a follow-up investigation. With all the major players still residing in Grotto, Maggie must navigate her strained relationships in order to discover the truth of what happened to her beloved friend.
This is How I Lied is told from three points of view (Maggie, Nola, Eve) through two time periods (2020 and 1995), making for a complex structure that could have been the novel’s downfall. However, Heather Gudenkauf is a skilled writer who never loses control of the various threads within the story and successfully leads her readers through the narrative without a moment of confusion. In fact, the cleverly-placed recounting of past events serve as touchstones, always reminding the reader that what happened to Eve on that day in 1995 was not a single event, but a series of unexpected encounters sadly aimed toward a tragic end.
While the novel is primarily focused on explaining what happened to Eve Knox, it is also the story of Maggie Kennedy-O’Keefe and Nola Knox. Maggie’s father oversaw the original investigation and with him now suffering from debilitating dementia, she wants to make him proud by solving the case that haunted him for years. Despite being seven months pregnant, Maggie will do anything to find justice for her friend, even if that means exposing a past that too many people wish would remain buried. Not the least of whom is Nola Knox, whose contentious relationship with her older sister is only overshadowed by her creepy interest in dead things and their bodily remains, in particular. Nola has secrets of her own and therapy transcripts for her court-mandated sessions give readers much-needed insight into her actions. Can these two women put their conflicts aside long enough to uncover the truth of Eve’s death?
Just as the title implies, This is How I Lied is centered on the many fabrications that plague this narrative. Readers stay invested trying to discover which was the lie that ultimately led to murder. It would be advisable to start this novel only when there is sufficient time to devote, as Heather Gudenkauf has made this one incredibly difficult to set aside unfinished. Her fans will be anxious to hear what type of tale her next novel will spin.
Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.