Lies That Bind Review
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It wasn’t long ago that author Maggie Barbieri was entertaining readers with her light and lovable cozy mysteries. Then, with her first Maeve Conlon novel, Once Upon a Lie, she turned to the dark side. And she once again travels through the shadows of a middle-aged mom’s mind in the second novel in the series, Lies That Bind.

The story begins in a way that’s similar to Barbieri’s first Maeve Conlon novel: with a funeral. This time, it’s Maeve’s father, Jack, who’s passed away, leaving the single mother and bakery owner with no family beyond her two daughters: one who’s away at college and one who’s becoming an increasingly troubled teen. But then, after the funeral, an old childhood neighbor drunkenly reveals that Maeve had a sister—one that her father never mentioned.

Maeve wrestles with the shocking revelation and its implications. And as she begins searching for information about a sister that she never knew existed, she also finds herself dealing with a series of break-ins at her bakery.

If you’re looking for a light, easy-going mystery to pass the time, you’ll want to stick with Barbieri’s Murder 101 novels—because her Maeve Conlon novels are about as dark and bleak as they come. Throughout the story, Maeve faces everything from death, violence, and loneliness to drug dealers, troubled teens, and more. On the surface, Maeve may seem like a mild-mannered baker. She’s a hard-working single mom and a devoted friend. She even finds herself in a budding romance with a local cop (who just happens to be investigating a series of disturbing incidents at her shop). But there’s much more to Maeve than meets the eye. She’s an average woman with an edge that no one knows about—and that makes her both likeable and intriguing.

Maeve’s latest story, however, lacks the haunting suspense of its predecessor—and the central plot feels awkward and often unbelievable. No matter what the circumstances may have been for Maeve’s family, it seems unlikely that she would have gone her whole life without knowing that she had a sister. And even if her parents managed to keep it a secret, it’s unlikely that Maeve’s two neighbors—who went out of their way to taunt and torment her throughout her childhood—would have been able to keep such juicy gossip to themselves.

Meanwhile, side plots tend to be underdeveloped, mentioned on occasion but ignored for large portions of the novel. For the most part, they seem unnecessary—little more than a distraction from the main storyline. And while Maeve’s father added some much-needed humor to an otherwise grim first novel, the sequel’s subplots make the story feel even darker and more foreboding.

Lies That Bind is anything but light reading. It’s heavy and haunting, with a main character who’s harboring all kinds of shadowy secrets. While her second outing isn’t as solidly suspenseful as her first, though, the uncommon main character could make it worth sticking with the series.

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