Review: Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison

Summary: In the majestic cliff-top villa owned by the wealthy Compton family, up-and-coming artist Claire Hunter will marry handsome, charming Jack Compton, surrounded by close family, intimate friends…and a host of dark secrets. From the moment Claire sets foot on the island, something seems amiss. Skeletal remains have just been found. There are other, newer disturbances, too. Menacing texts. A ruined wedding dress. And one troubling shadow hanging over Claire’s otherwise blissful relationship—the strange mystery surrounding Jack’s first wife. Then a raging storm descends, the power goes out—and the real terror begins…
Genre: thriller, mystery
Rating: 3/5 stars

It’s funny how my last post was about mediocre thrillers, because here I am writing a review of…another mediocre thriller. This is apparently the circle I’m stuck in: tell myself I need to branch out of the thriller genre for a bit, just take a little tiny break and explore my other options; skim through the list of new book releases that come out each week and see the abundance of thrillers; get enticed by the cover (okay seriously this one is gorgeous) and add it to my to-be-read stack.

The plot doesn’t even have to be that brilliant or new to reel me in. Slap a thriller label on it and I’ll eat it up. I know I’m not the only person who read the summary for this book and immediately saw the parallels between it and The Guest List by Lucy Foley, but I still decided to read this. Why? Because I’m a masochist, apparently.

I’ve never read any of J.T. Ellison’s other work, but I know she has a strong fan base, and some of her other books are on my tbr list. After reading this, I can understand why people like her. Her writing style is gripping and easy-going. There are plenty of characters to become familiar with, but the introductions for all of them were strong, and I was able to follow along easily.

The chapters are told in three different character perspectives: the main is first-person POV from Claire, the second is third-person POV from her fiance Jack (these really only exist to keep the story moving when Claire isn’t in every single scene), and the third is introduced about midway through, another first person narrative. None of these perspectives or jumps were difficult to follow, although I almost wish it had been told fully in third person or Ellison should have just made Claire ultra-nosey and had her eavesdrop on every conversation with Jack instead of alternating perspectives.

So in a lot of ways, this book works. It’s quick-paced, with plenty of twists and turns throughout. It takes place on a gorgeous island off the Italian coast, in an ancient villa with so much history and beauty. There’s family drama, a violent storm that traps guests on the island, a power outage, a killer lurking in the depths, and a ridiculously high body count. If I’m trying to sell the book, it sounds great.

But there’s always a but.

The characters are all extreme caricatures and stereotypes. Claire is the artsy girl with piercings, tattoos, and ripped jeans with Converse (and the number of times she mentioned her ripped jeans and Converse drove me up a wall, including the time Jack told her she could specifically wear her jeans and Converse to their ceremony and he wouldn’t mind) who happens to woo a brilliant, handsome, wealthy Jack despite not being his type. Jack’s parents are multi-millionaires whose dialogue is so stiff and cringey. You get the idea.

The plot got a liiiiittle too ridiculous for my liking. That never stopped it from being fun (I appreciate an author who can rock a high body count), but it took away from ever being realistic, which meant I never got wrapped up in the drama and twists. No one is who they say they are, and that’s a fine story arch until it’s beaten to death, as it was here. Not only was the biggest twist of the story an all too common trope in the thriller genre right now, but it was introduced so early on that it left little room for excitement later. I was genuinely surprised when that was thrown at me, because I saw I still had 60% of the book left and couldn’t possibly figure out how I’d stay interested that long. Again, there’s enough of a story here that it kept me reading and the plot didn’t slow down, but the excitement had certainly dwindled.

Was this a fun book that helped me stay on track of my reading challenge? You bet. Did it make me laugh and even roll my eyes at the absurdities? Of course. Will it stick with me longer than a month at most? Definitely not. And there’s nothing specifically wrong with this particular book. It hits the criteria of a mass-market thriller, and I’m sure it’ll do well. There’s just nothing in this book that stood out and wowed me.

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