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.

8 thoughts on “Book review: The Last Lie by Stephen White

  1. I read an early one of these and then they fell off my radar, sounds like I should correct that situation

    • They are slow but good, Bernadette. I like the ethical dilemmas they address (and I’m keen on novels about psychology or psychotherapy) – sometimes the plots are a bit hard to credit and sometimes the characters drive you a bit bats with their refusal to confide in each other, but basically they are jolly good reads. The author himself has MS so his portrayal of Lauren is particularly realistic (one assumes) and poignant.

  2. Maxine – An excellent review – thanks! I agree with you that White does a fine job of addressing many of the dilemmas that psychologists/psychotherapists face. They also do a solid job of weaving together Alan Gregory’s personal and professional lives, so that one sees him as a three-dimensional character. I happen to like the Boulder, CO setting of this series as well; White places the reader there effectively. I haven’t caught up with this series just lately. Methinks that must be remedied.

    • Agreed, Margot, the setting is very well done and an integral part of the book. The redevelopment of Boulder is quite significant to the plot of this novel, which adds interesting local colour.

  3. I liked this book and I like the series. Think I have read all of them. I read this one awhile ago so my memory of plot details, other than the main theme, are a bit fuzzy.
    I like the main characters and enjoy reading about their relationships and conflicts. The repartee between Sam and Alan is often quite humorous.
    I have found that the books are a bit uneven. Some I think are great, others are O.K. I enjoy them all because of the characters and the issues that come up.
    I even enjoy reading about the dogs.
    Hope that Stephen White has another one on the road about this crew. Alan is pondering several changes in their lives, and I do want to see what happens — although I enjoy reading about their lives amidst greenery, where the dogs and children can run free.
    Glad to see that you like this series. It’s one of my go-to books when I need a break from global stresses. This makes me think I should reread a few.

    • thanks, Kathy – this one is barely out over here so I guess it must have been released in the USA a lot earlier. I agree they can be uneven but I think this one is one of the better ones.

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