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by Sara Blaedel and Mark Kline, trans.
Dutton, March 2022
304 pages
ISBN: 0593330943

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sara Blaedel's mystery novel A HARMLESS LIE keeps the reader guessing throughout about the meaning of the title. The accidental discovery of a desiccated body in a cave on an island brings back public interest in a mysterious disappearance from the past. In 1995, a 14-year-old schoolgirl named Susan Dahlgaard went missing on a school trip to that island and was never seen or heard from again. When the body is revealed to indeed be that of Susan, questions arise about connections to present events and disappearances. We do not know what the lie is or who has told this "harmless" lie, but the consequences may be far reaching.

As the book opens, Detective Louise Rick, on leave from her job and away on an extended trip with her family, gets a phone call that her younger brother Mikhel has, once again, attempted suicide. He believes that his wife, Trine, with whom he has recently been reunited, has deserted him again and he is devastated. Louise rushes home but is then confronted by the fact that her sister-in-law's disappearance may not be at all what her brother supposes. She finds evidence that Trine may have left quickly, and perhaps not of her own accord.

Journalist Camilla Lind comes to speak with Trine, because it turns out that Trine had been a classmate of the missing Susan and had been on the fatal class trip. She learns from Louise, who is a friend, that Trine has disappeared and both of these women search for answers to the disappearances.

The regular chapters are interrupted at various points for creepy descriptions of someone seemingly in a cave and not able to move, breathing with difficulty and surrounded by bugs. Are these descriptions of Susan's ordeal in the past?

Suspects abound. We are introduced to a troubled young woman named Mona Ibsen who is obsessed with bugs. She was also on that fatal island excursion but did not go out with the group that included the lost Susan. She was always an outsider, but could she be more than that? Then there are the island boys that the schoolgirls sneaked out to meet. Could they have done something to Susan?

The characters in this haunting novel have depth, intricate back stories and complicated relationships. The plot engages the reader in trying to decipher clues from the past and the present. Because of these elements, A HARMLESS LIE is an absorbing and worthwhile read.

Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, February 2022

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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