Once Upon a Lie Review
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Best known for her Murder 101 mystery series, author Maggie Barbieri definitely has a knack for writing humorous whodunits. But with her latest novel, Once Upon a Lie, she steps outside her comfort zone—and the result is a thriller that’s alternately easy-going and haunting.

Once Upon a Lie introduces single mom and bakery owner Maeve Conlon as she struggles to cope with the loss of her cousin Sean. It’s not that they were close; quite the opposite, in fact. So when Sean was found murdered, Maeve she actually felt more relief than grief.

As Maeve goes through the motions of burying her cousin, though, old memories of her troubled childhood come flooding back. And the real problems begin to arise when police officers start investigating her father—an 80-year-old man with Alzheimer’s—for Sean’s murder.

In the beginning, it may feel like another cozy contemporary mystery, but, really, Once Upon a Lie isn’t so much a mystery as it is a family drama with a little bit of a cover-up thrown in. Though the police are searching for Sean’s murderer, the novel doesn’t delve into the details of the investigation. Instead, it focuses on Maeve’s story—especially on her childhood and her increasing awareness of those who are suffering as she once suffered. From the beginning, it’s clear that there’s more to the story—more secrets and more lies—and as more details of Maeve’s past come to light, you’ll understand why she doesn’t really care about Sean’s murder.

At the same time, Maeve also spends much of the book trying to defend her father. Jack is a happy-go-lucky retired cop who tends to forget the important details—and he sometimes goes missing from his assisted living community. For that reason, when the police question him, he doesn’t always have the answers—so Maeve sets out to clear his name.

Meanwhile, Jack is one of the things keeping Once Upon a Lie from getting too dark and heavy. There are a lot of serious (and sometimes disturbing) topics at play here, yet lovable characters like Jack and Maeve’s friend and employee, Jo, help to lighten up the atmosphere from time to time. There are touches of romance and dark humor, too—all of which make this dark thriller an enjoyable read.

Once Upon a Lie may be heavy and haunting at times, but it’s smart and sometimes funny, too. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but Barbieri handles it remarkably well. So if you’ve enjoyed her Murder 101 mysteries—or even if you’ve avoided them because of their cozy, cutesy covers—her latest thriller is definitely worth picking up.

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