By: Rachel Howzell Hall
Release Date: July 12, 2022
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Rachel Howzell Hall is no stranger to mystery and thriller novels, in fact being a former member of the board of directors for the Mystery Writers of America. Her latest book isn’t another installment in the Detective Elouise Norton series but a standalone novel titled We Lie Here.
Protagonist Yara Gibson narrates the tale in first-person perspective. This young twenty-something is a television writer and devoted daughter planning an expensive, no-holds-barred party for her parent’s twentieth anniversary that’s the talk of the town. Before she even reaches home, though, Felicia Campbell, an apparent friend of Yara’s mother, sends her a message. “I have information that will change your life.” Then, before Yara can learn what this information may be, Felicia turns up dead.
Secrets abound in We Lie Here. The Palmdale, California home Yara grew up in may not be the sort of hulking old mansion found in Gothic literature but it’s certainly filled with the same buried secrets, unsaid rules, tension, and interpersonal difficulties. It’s clear the happy, perfect family the Gibson’s strive to show off is far from the reality they live behind closed doors. Strained familial relations are perfectly depicted and extremely believable, making the character feel more real. Tension twists and changes as the story evolves, yet the sense that the whole family stands on the edge of a knife remains throughout.
Fast pacing, clear prose, immediate mystery, and interesting family dynamics instantly draw readers in. However, a good deal of repetition is found within the novel’s 412 pages. These scenes have a tendency to revolve around panic and asthma attacks, both of which are supposed to feel more akin to PTSD. However, these attacks were never quite as believable as they could have been. Tension tended to lessen in what should have been quite intense sections, leaving a sense of repetition that may make certain readers skim the section.
This wasn’t the only repetitive feature of the novel, though. Facts and various bits of information are presented multiple times, sometimes from different sources. While this may be understandable from a plot perspective, the text lingers too long on these scenes, stalling earlier chapters’ ferocious forward momentum.
The true villain of the tale will most likely be easily guessable for readers of mystery and suspense. This isn’t necessarily a detractor, though. The intense suspense remains palpable, the danger ever present.
The novel’s greatest detractor is that it ends in the middle of the climax with a short epilogue to tie things up. This feels extremely unrewarding. Pacing is utterly decimated. Readers don’t get to actually see the conclusion to a heart-racing wild dash to the finish line. Much of the plot feels very inconclusive as a result. While we may hear second-hand about how subplots have resolved and how family dynamics have shifted, it doesn’t evolve naturally. Readers simply need to take Yara’s word for it.
In the end, a good hundred pages could have been cut without losing any plot or character development. Confusingly, another two or three chapters could have been added to the end of the text, which would have significantly bolstered the novel. This isn’t to say there isn’t anything worthwhile here, though. Tension and suspense ooze out of scenes that would otherwise be mundane or even heartwarming—dinner with the family, visiting a childhood home. Yara is an interesting narrator, one whose voice lingers long after the last page. Hall is definitely an author to keep an eye on, though We Lie Here may not be her most effective novel.