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British Mysteries

Telling Lies to Alice, Laura Wilson, Dell, $6.99.

This is was our book club choice for the month of February - much to my delight, as I've read and enjoyed all of Wilson's other books, which rival Minette Walter's in excellent writing, plotting, character development, and complexity. If she's not quite as dark or complex as Walters, she's certainly close, and her books have a kind of quality - for me at least - that makes them hard to put down. All are very different, as I think Wilson is a gifted writer who likes to experiment with different points of view and ways of telling a story. In this novel, Alice, an ex-club girl (she was a playboy bunny, or something very like it, in the 60's) is being recounted by her in the 70's, a few years after the suicide of her lover/fiancee, Lenny Maxted, a famous comedian and TV star. She's been having dreams about a skeleton in a submerged car - the skeleton, recently discovered, is apparently one of her former co-workers, "Bunny Kitty". Alice never liked Kitty (the reasons become abundantly clear when you read the book) but she's still disturbed by the way she died. When Lenny's old partner, Jack Flowers, shows up at her country house (where Alice happily lives in seclusion with her animals) more memories are stirred up, and Jack's erratic behavior is even more disturbing.

This is actually a very simple story - only the set up is complex - and it's told completely from Alice's point of view. Alice may not be the smartest person who ever lived (she's the first to admit it) but when it comes to common decency, she has no equal, and thus her lens is an agreeable and even understandable one for the reader. When Jack's behavior starts to become dangerous and ultimately murderous, Alice becomes - through a series of clever contrivances on Wilson's part - a virtual prisoner. The story takes place in the 1970's and I think part of the reason is plot related: there were no cell phones then. The story is thus a more or less hostage/hostage taker story, but the twist is that Alice knows her tormenter, and not only does she know him, but her personal history is intertwined with his in ways that are not always positive.

Wilson at the same time manages to firmly anchor Alice in her small community - including a trip to town on the part of Jack and Alice before things turn bad that enables her to include other people in the community in the story. Alice can also understand Jack's behavior - up to a point. As the world she's inhabiting with him becomes more and more restricted - first just the house and barn, then just the house, then only the kitchen, etc., the psychological fires are turned way up at the same time, making for a very compelling story. If you are willing to take a chance on a book told from an unusual point of view, you'll also be in for some lovely writing and wonderful characterizations that make the whole enterprise more than worthwhile.

Disclaimer: our book group unanimously HATED this book. Make your own informed decision.

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