Book review: The Last Lie by Stephen White

The Last Lie
by Stephen White (Alan Gregory series #16)
Signet, 2011

After the (pretty much) non-series novel The Siege, Stephen White returns to his popular character of Boulder, Co, psychologist Alan Gregory, who becomes involved in a very readable and exciting mystery. As well as Alan, these novels also feature as regular characters Lauren, Alan’s DA wife who has MS and (we have recently learnt) a chequered past, and their friend Sam, a police officer with not so much a chequered but a disastrous past, but recently somewhat rehabilitated career-wise even though his personal life is amazingly complicated. This choice of lead characters provides these novels with a unique interest, in that although the three are closely bound, their professions mean that they cannot tell each other what is going on. This theme is used to full effect in The Last Lie as personal and professional loyalties collide more than once.

The plot is driven by the arrival of new neighbours for Alan, Lauren, their adopted son Jonas and their daughter Grace. Jonas is a pre-teenage boy orphaned by events described in previous novels. He is the son of the people who previously owned the mountain home now being invaded by an unpleasant (to Alan) celebrity lawyer who makes a fortune out of the self-help business. There are a few territorial joustings, eg concerning Alan’s dogs, but this is nothing compared to Alan’s shocking realisation that the neighbour is none other than a man who is accused of a nasty “post-party rape”. The reason Alan knows about this case is because the victim’s psychotherapist is being supervised by Alan. Alan is immediately in a typically familiar Stephen White quandary – he is bound by patient confidentiality but he wants to protect his wife and young daughter from the possible consequences of living next door to a man who may be a rapist.

The author adds twist after twist to his theme, as Lauren (in the DA’s office) becomes familiar with the case but cannot tell Alan what is going on for her own reasons of professional confidentiality, and Sam is one of the police investigators of the alleged crime but is also unable to speak, possibly for legal reasons but possibly for others.

In parallel with the plot, Alan and his family face various personal issues – for example whether they should move into town (there are various pros and cons); how Jonas is managing to integrate into his new family; and various fascinating aspects of the supervisor-traniee role in therapy and where the boundaries are. All in all, this is a very exciting and interesting book, very sympathetic to some modern dilemmas, such as the role of private lawyers in controlling the police investigation of a crime. Frankly, a crime that occurs mid-way through the book (and a subsequent one) seemed a little far fetched to me, but that’s a minor flaw in what is otherwise a great read. One aspect I liked is that the author is particularly sympathetic to the dilemma of the woman who believes she has been raped – a clever achievement as this character does not appear directly in the novel apart from in a short prologue, so the reader is never very sure of her reliability, let alone how her case is going to turn out.

I purchased the Kindle edition of this book as the print version is not yet available in the UK, though it is in the USA.

Other reviews of this book are at: Bookreporter, the Denver Post and Spinetingler magazine.

About the book at the author’s website, including free excerpts, interviews, reviews and “bonus” features.