The BookBrowse Review

Published June 22, 2022

ISSN: 1930-0018

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The Lies I Tell
The Lies I Tell
A Novel
by Julie Clark

Hardcover (21 Jun 2022), 320 pages.
Publisher: Sourcebooks
ISBN-13: 9781728247595
Genres
BookBrowse:
Critics:
Readers:
  

The Lies I Tell is a twisted domestic thriller that dives deep into the psyches and motivations of two women and their unwavering quest to seek justice for the past and rewrite the future.

The new thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Flight!

She's back. Meg Williams. Maggie Littleton. Melody Wilde. Different names for the same person, depending on the town, depending on the job. She's a con artist who erases herself to become whoever you need her to be―a college student. A life coach. A real estate agent. Nothing about her is real. She slides alongside you and tells you exactly what you need to hear, and by the time she's done, you've likely lost everything.

Kat Roberts has been waiting ten years for the woman who upended her life to return. And now that she has, Kat is determined to be the one to expose her. But as the two women grow closer, Kat's long-held assumptions begin to crumble, leaving Kat to wonder who Meg's true target is.

Kat

Present—­June

She stands across the room from me, in a small cluster of donors, talking and laughing. A jazz quartet plays in a corner, the bouncing, slipping notes dancing around us, a low undertone of class and money. Meg Williams. I take a sip of wine, savoring the expensive vintage, the weight of the crystal glass, and I watch her. There are few photographs of her in existence—­a grainy senior portrait from an old high school yearbook, and another image pulled from a 2009 YMCA staff directory—­but I recognized her immediately. My first thought: She's back. Followed closely by my second: Finally.

As soon as I saw her, I tucked my press credentials into my purse and kept to the perimeter of the room. I've been to all of Ron Ashton's campaign events in the past three months, watching and waiting for Meg to make her appearance—­called there by a Google Alert I set ten years ago. After a decade of silence, it pinged in April, with the creation of a new website. Meg Williams, Real Estate Agent. I always knew she'd return. That she'd done so under her real name told me she wasn't planning to hide.

And yet, when she entered, smiling as she handed over her coat at the door, my sense of equilibrium shifted, launching me into a moment I wasn't sure would ever arrive. You can prepare yourself for something, imagine it a hundred different ways, and still find yourself breathless when it actually happens.

I spoke to her once, ten years ago, though she wouldn't have known I was the one who'd answered the phone that day. It was a thirty-­second call that changed the trajectory of my life, and to say I hold Meg partially responsible would be an understatement.

Scott, my fiancé, will surely argue that the cost—­both financially and emotionally—­will be too great. That we can't afford for me to step away from paying jobs to chase a story that might never happen. That immersing myself in that time, in those events, and in those people, might undo all the work I've put into healing. What he doesn't understand is that this is the story that will finally set me free—­not just from the fluff pieces I'm paid pennies per word to write, but from the bigger demons that Meg sent me toward so long ago.

I attach myself to a larger circle of people, and I nod along with their conversation, all the while keeping an eye on her. Watching her mingle and circulate. Watching her watch him. I've spent hundreds of hours deconstructing her last few years in Los Angeles, and no matter which way I look at it, Ron Ashton stands at the center. While I don't know her heart—­not yet at least—­I do know she isn't the kind of woman to pass up an opportunity to balance the scales.

She tosses her head back and laughs at something someone says, and as Ron approaches her from behind, I marvel that I get to be here to see this moment. That I'm the only person in the room who knows what's about to happen.

Well, not the only person. She knows.

I turn slightly so I appear to be looking out a large window, at the sweeping views from downtown to the ocean, and I watch as introductions are made. Witty banter, some laughter. He bends down so he can hear her better, and I wonder how she does it. How she can trick people into believing she is who she says she is, into handing over their deepest desires, opening themselves up to her manipulation and trickery. Offering themselves willingly to her deception.

I watch as a business card is passed and pocketed before looking away, my mind latching on to her entry point. Which will now become mine.

Meg

Present—­June

Twenty-­Two Weeks before the Election


It starts how it always starts.

With me, quietly slipping alongside you—­no sudden moves, no loud fanfare. As if I've always been there. Always belonged.

Full Excerpt

Excerpted from The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark. Copyright © 2022 by Julie Clark. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  1. One of the most powerful tools in Meg's arsenal is a familiarity with social media. What do you think she could learn about you from your online presence?
  2. Since they both know the other woman is lying about her identity, Meg and Kat also know they shouldn't trust each other. How does their friendship grow despite this?
  3. Discuss the role of ego in Meg's cons. How do her targets create openings for her with their own bad behavior?
  4. At first, Kat blames Meg for what happened with Nate. When do you think she stopped feeling that way?
  5. The greatest downside of Meg's career is the loneliness. Do you think she could have kept in touch with her friends when she started scamming Cory? How would you feel in her position, moving cross-country every few years and not making any permanent connections?
  6. Meg believes that scamming Phillip to return Celia's cottage was a turning point in her career. How was that job different from the others she had run?
  7. Why does it take Kat so long to recognize that Scott has relapsed? Where would you draw the line between supporting a partner who is trying to overcome an addiction and protecting yourself?
  8. Kat doesn't trust that Scott will be investigated by his colleagues. Is there incentive for police departments to investigate their officers and detectives? What motivations do they have to sweep corruption and violence under the rug?
  9. Meg posits, "The difference between justice and revenge comes down to who's telling the story." What does she mean, and do you agree with her?
  10. What's next for Kat and Meg? Do you think Kat will succeed in her new quest? Will Meg really retire from cons?

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Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Sourcebooks. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

A twisty psychological thriller that follows two women seeking to right past wrongs.

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Julie Clark's thriller The Lies I Tell received high praise from our First Impressions reviewers, who rated it an average of 4.6 out of 5 stars. Clark is a New York Times bestselling author whose previous novels include the The Last Flight, also featured on BookBrowse.

What the book is about:

The Lies I Tell is a brilliant, twisted thriller that grabs you from the beginning. Meg is a con artist trying to right the wrong she experienced as a young woman. Kat, a writer, has been following Meg for years. She suspects Meg is a con artist but needs proof (Marion C). Kat holds Meg responsible for a violent attack in her past. Meg holds Ron responsible for the insecurity of her childhood. Along the way, Ron and other men are made to pay for their crimes against women. Kat investigates Meg's crimes. But were they crimes or justice? This book is about the perfect con, revenge, justice, complicated women, and motivation (Judith M).

Readers found Clark's novel engrossing from the start...

The Lies I Tell is a psychological thriller that will keep you guessing and have you shaking your head, and it's one that you won't want to put down (Elizabeth P). Incredible! A chilling ten-year plan of skillful revenge. Find a comfy chair, buckle your seat belt and delve into The Lies I Tell by Julie Clark. The author leads readers on a merry chase as crafty and resourceful Meg Williams plots a complicated con artist jigsaw (Beth B).

...and some praised it for constantly eluding their expectations.

Whew! Every time I thought I knew where the plot was going... Bam! Nope! (Patty S). I thought I had this all figured out only to realize I was way off. It was full of lots of twists and turns. I loved it! (Tara T).

A few reviewers felt there were minor flaws in the book's overall structure and craft...

The format of switching chapters between Meg and Kat should have worked better but sometimes foreshadowing or sequencing seemed off between the two. Hard not to give examples without spoilers so I'll just say this book definitely has good points — sections of good writing — and is not a bad read by any means, but for me, it just needed tightening up to be the suspenseful page-turner I was expecting (Connie K). The alternate voices for each chapter and the time shifts can be confusing if read in small doses (Lynn R).

...but many found it to be a satisfying balance between entertainment and intellectual reflection.

This novel is a lot of fun to read and also raises important questions about money, power, revenge, and justice in modern America (Rebecca H). What I enjoyed most was the insight into what makes a con work. I recommend this suspenseful thriller that will hold your interest to the ending. It will make you question, is doing the wrong thing for the "right" reason OK? The Lies I Tell is sure to be a great beach read this summer (Catherine H).

Overall, The Lies I Tell impressed Clark's previous fans and won her some new ones.

Wow. Julie Clark has done it again. I was so excited I got to read an early reader copy. I will be recommending this book to my book club and all my friends (Beth M). After reading Clark's The Last Flight, I became a fan and looked forward to her next book. The Lies I Tell was just as good, maybe better. I found Meg and Kat to be more believable than the two women in The Last Flight (Michele N). I didn't think Julie Clark could top The Last Flight, but top it she did! (Julia A). This book won't be quiet! Your mind will revisit the story time and again. I'll wager your next step will be identical to mine: I immediately ordered the writer's two previous novels and anticipate another memorable reading experience (Beth B).

Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Library Journal
Will twist readers through an intricate, domestic thriller as the two women's lies unravel. Perfect for fans of Kimberley Belle, Alice Feeney, and Michael Robotham.

Publishers Weekly
Intriguing...Clark skillfully fleshes out the strong, multifaceted characters. The story nicely mixes brisk plot points with slow burning reveals as it builds to a satisfying conclusion. Clark doesn't disappoint.

Author Blurb Jessica Knoll, New York Times bestselling author of Luckiest Girl Alive
A meticulously plotted mindbender, with a last page I can only describe as a triumph. Do not miss it.

Author Blurb Kimberly McCreight, New York Times bestselling author of A Good Marriage and Friends like These
The Lies I Tell is a uniquely riveting cat and mouse game with two artfully nuanced female protagonists that is at once a razor-sharp, page-turning mystery and a brilliant, thought-provoking exploration of what it truly means to do good in the world.

Author Blurb Laura Dave, #1 New York Times bestselling author
Julie Clark has done it again...taking you straight into the collision course of two dynamic, complicated women.

Author Blurb Liv Constantine, internationally bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish
Clark knocks it out of the park with The Lies I Tell. A modern-day Robin Hood with a feminist twist. This is one of the best books you'll read this year. Unputdownable!

Author Blurb Mary Kubica, New York Times bestselling author of Local Woman Missing
The Lies I Tell is a knockout. Smart, savvy and so duplicitous with a propulsive storyline and two of the most beguiling female characters I've ever met. Julie Clark does it again!

Author Blurb Sarah Pekkanen, co-author of The Golden Couple
Another terrific nail-biter by Julie Clark. The Lies I Tell weaves together the stories of two strong, complicated women: a brilliant con artist, and the journalist determined to unmask her. Fast-paced and beautifully plotted.

Write your own review

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Summer Devlin
The Lies I Tell
A wonderful, engrossing read. Much like Julie Clark's first book, "The Last Flight" I was impressed with the two, strong women. Julie always researches her stories with great emphasis on accuracy. Whether it is real estate or politics - she knows her subjects well. Her books are hard to put down.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by saichaithanya
very good book
The new thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of The Last Flight!

She's back. Meg Williams. Maggie Littleton. Melody Wilde. Different names for the same person, depending on the town, depending on the job. She's a con artist who erases herself to become whoever you need her to be?a college student. A life coach. A real estate agent. Nothing about her is real. She slides alongside you and tells you exactly what you need to hear, and by the time she's done, you've likely lost everything.

Kat Roberts has been waiting ten years for the woman who upended her life to return. And now that she has, Kat is determined to be the one to expose her. But as the two women grow closer, Kat's long-held assumptions begin to crumble, leaving Kat to wonder who Meg's true target is.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by JHSiess
Another Absorbing Mystery from the Talented Julie Clark
Bestselling author Julie Clark was fascinated by a podcast about a con artist who "went to elaborate lengths to lure in his victims, gain their trust, and then steal everything they owned." She envisioned female con artists being even more effective because women are generally perceived as less threatening than men. She asked herself, "Would people be more inclined to trust them?"

From the outset, Clark makes Meg a richly sympathetic con artist. Early in the story, Meg reveals that her latest target, Ron Ashton, tricked her mother, robbed them of what was rightfully theirs, and is now a powerful politician. Meg's first-person narrative is highly effective and heightens her story's emotional impact. She explains that Ashton "tore my life apart, sending my mother into a downward spiral she never recovered from and leaving me to live alone in a car for my final year of high school and beyond." Meg describes how her mother longed for a true partner, believing women should stand on their own, but fell victim to the scheming, deceitful Ashton. Meg's dreams were crushed and she learned to take refuge in libraries, using the computers there to establish a dating profile that ensured at least three dinner dates per week in order to stay fed. Living in her car, she worked at the YMCA where she was able to shower before her shift and hide her true circumstances from her boss and coworkers. She was never quite able to save enough enough money to get a place to live due to car registration fees, rising gas prices, and parking tickets issued as a result of the ongoing search for a safe place to park and catch a few hours of sleep. She inadvertently fell into a life of grifting when she discovered the profile on a dating site of a math teacher, Cory Dempsey, at her high school. Crafting a fake identity and life story, Meg used her knowledge about the forty-eight-year-old, who had been promoted to high school principal, as a basis for her first scam. Initially, she was motivated by her need for a safe place to live. But as she learned more about him, she formulated a plan to extract revenge and found she enjoyed being someone else. Eventually, Meg reached the point that "harming someone who harmed someone she cared about felt right to her" and found a lucrative career as a con artist.

Meg explains how she creates elaborate, detailed backstories about herself, focuses on specific targets, and "plays the long game," taking time to study her prey. She methodically infiltrates her victims' lives, heavily using social media to establish connections with her victims' friends and business associates. That way, the mutual acquaintance can vouch for her when she finally meets the victim, corroborating details of the identity she has fabricated. And she reinvests in her business, using the money she makes from her cons to fund her future scams. She keeps meticulous records of her pursuits.

By the time Meg meets Kat, she has been spent ten years perfecting her techniques, all in preparation for and leading up to the one big con that will destroy Ashton, the man who ruined her life. As Meg compellingly explains, being a con artist is not just a role she never planned to play. It is a lonely existence and she has no intention of being a grifter indefinitely.

When Kat and Meg's lives intersected a decade ago, Kat's career as an investigative journalist was just beginning. Chasing the Cory Dempsey story, she saw a chance to score an interview with a reluctant witness. It could lead not only to the discovery of new and shocking information about the story, but also, perhaps, to details about Meg herself that would enable her to successfully pitch a story about her and allow Kat to advance in a highly competitive industry. Her risk did not pay off. Instead, her life quickly derailed. She was "collateral damage" as a result of a series of events set in motion by Meg. She has blamed Meg ever since, determined to expose Meg as the fraud that she is and put her life back in order. Clark also employs a first-person narrative to convey Kat's story, pulling readers into her innermost thoughts and motivations in chapters that alternate with Meg's account. Kat reveals that she knows blaming Meg for what happened to her is not entirely rational, but she embarks, like Meg, on a mission to "balance the scales."

Kat is living with her fiancé, Scott, a police detective with a gambling problem, when she learns that Meg has returned. Meg is posing as a real estate broker, and Kat secures a job as Meg's assistant. She plans to infiltrate Meg's life, ingratiating herself in much the way that Meg does with her victims, in order to gather enough evidence to finally write the exposé that will unmask Meg and establish Kat as a credible, respected journalist. She believes that Meg has no idea who she really is, but before long, Kat finds herself being reeled in by Meg, and doubting everything she thought she knew as she strives to keep her life from unraveling yet again. Trust is a theme Clark deftly explores through Kat's experiences. She made the mistake of trusting years ago and the consequences devastated her. But did she learn from the experience? Is her trust in Scott misplaced? Has she learned to trust her own instincts? And could her growing fondness for Meg, despite her knowledge of Meg's actions, undermine her efforts to get her life and career back on track?

The Lies I Tell is a smart, absorbing story about two women who craft false identities and attempt to con each other. Both are motivated by deep wounds inflicted by others who wronged them. In Meg's case, she lost her beloved mother as a result of Ashton's callous wrongdoing. Both women are intent on retribution, believing that they can exact justice and, in the process, free themselves from past hurts and forge for themselves the kind of futures they have long dreamed about. Clark cleverly keeps readers guessing "who is the cat and who is the mouse" in a tale that is simultaneously full of surprises and heart-wrenching. Clark has made Meg a relatable anti-hero for whom readers will find themselves rooting.

And The Lies I Tell is yet another cautionary tale about the dangers of social media. The methods Meg employs to gather insight into her victims and enable her to believably ingratiate herself in their lives illustrate the inherent dangers of posting personal details online. Posts detailing life experiences, birthplaces, current and past residences, jobs held, names of relatives, etc. can easily provide a con artist the entrée he/she seeks.

For Clark, The Lies I Tell is "about justice; it's about taking back what you think belongs to you.” And that theme is particularly poignant, resonant, and timely given that Clark's two protagonists are female and this is still "a world where women often get the short end of the stick."

Thanks to NetGalley for an Advance Reader's Copy of the book.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Robin B. (Olmsted Falls, OH)
The Lies I Tell
I greatly enjoyed this book. I loved the twists and turns and enjoyed the mouse and cat game played between the two main characters. I am now reading another book by the same author I was so impressed. Characters were well developed.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Tara T. (Carterville, IL)
The Lies I Tell
After reading The Last Flight and absolutely loving it I was really looking forward to The Lies I Tell. And it does not disappoint at all! I absolutely loved every minute of this book. I thought I had this all figured out only to realize I was way off. It was full of lots of twists and turns. I loved it! Highly recommended!!

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Julia A. (New York, NY)
Clark does it again!
I didn't think Julie Clark could top The Last Flight, but top it she did! In Kat and Meg, she has given us two main characters about whom I has a reader came to care perhaps more than I should, given the human flaws of each. This book had me questioning even the very title. Whose lies? Meg's for sure, but Kat's too. When Meg's motives become clear, it's hard to know whether to call her a grafter or a vigilante. Kat's lies get her close to Meg, but her motives are to me less pure perhaps than Meg's. To avoid spoilers, I will just say that in the end the male characters who wronged the female characters get what they deserve (with a possible exception) and this woman, for one, has to come to the guilty admission that she has been rooting for that to happen. The plot details are intricate enough to hold the reader's interest throughout. I look forward to more from Julie Clark.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Michele N. (Bethesda, MD)
The Lies I Tell
After reading Clark's "The Last Flight," I became a fan and looked forward to her next book. "The Lies I Tell" was just as good, maybe better. I found Meg (Maggie? Melody?) and Kat to be more believable than the two women in "The Last Flight." I was pulled into the story line from the beginning. It alternates between the two women, although I found Meg's character more fleshed out than Kat. The story is suspenseful with plenty of twists and turns. And towards the end, when you think you've got it figured out, you're wrong! Highly recommend.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Marion C. (Peabody, MA)
Meg and Kat
The Lies I Tell is a brilliant, twisted thriller that grabs you from the beginning. Meg, or is it Maggy or Melody, is a con artist trying to right the wrong she experienced as a young woman. She develops a devious plan to right that wrong. Kat, the other woman, a writer, has been following Meg for years, trying to prove the story behind Meg's activities. She suspects Meg is a con artist but needs proof. I enjoyed the refreshing premise behind the novel. If you relished Clark's other books, you would love The Lies I Tell.

more reviews...

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Gambling Addiction

Slot machine in casino in dim lighting In Julie Clark's The Lies I Tell, main character Kat's boyfriend Scott struggles with a gambling addiction, which affects the two of them and their relationship. When asked in an interview what she wanted readers to take away from Scott's gambling problem, Clark stated, "I want readers to see the complexity and heartache of loving an addict. That they are more than the worst thing they've done."

Sometimes referred to as a gambling disorder, or compulsive gambling, this type of addiction is characterized by the ongoing urge to gamble, even when it leads to consequences that have a destructive effect on one's life and the lives of others. Poker or other card games, playing slots and betting on sporting events are all activities that those with gambling addictions may develop a habit around, whether in person or online.

As the act of gambling compels people to risk something in the hopes of receiving more in return, it can interact with the brain in a similar way to how addictive substances like drugs and alcohol do, motivating someone to seek the feeling of being rewarded for taking a chance. The causes of compulsive gambling aren't clear-cut, and it can be tied to both genetic and environmental factors. It can also co-exist with and be linked to substance abuse problems and other mental health diagnoses such as depression, anxiety, ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder) and bipolar disorder.

Risk factors for gambling addiction include having other mental health disorders, being around people with gambling habits and taking certain medications, including antipsychotics and dopamine agonists (used to treat Parkinson's disease, among other conditions), that come with the rare possible side effect of compulsive behaviors such as gambling. Men are more likely candidates than women for a gambling addiction, and young people are more inclined to compulsive gambling than older people, though women who develop gambling problems tend to do so later in life.

There is no single recommended course of treatment for gambling disorders, and no medications have been approved by the FDA specifically for such disorders, but those affected by them can benefit from counseling or other types of therapy suited to their individual situations. HelpGuide gives practical advice for managing and seeking help for gambling addiction, including joining a support group such as Gamblers Anonymous.

Gambling addiction is a fairly common scenario to appear in television and movies. TV Tropes points out that a gambling problem may tend to crop up in sitcoms in particular because it can be plausibly built into a storyline relatively quickly: "It's…a very convenient 'habit' for a writer to use as a Compressed Vice because, as an emotional addiction, it doesn't carry outward signs that would have to be written in or accounted for later, and, as a legal or quasi-legal addiction, can be fully depicted in even some Family Friendly works and more 'realistic' as an addiction for some characters than, say, heroin." One example of this is a 1993 episode of The Simpsons in which Marge becomes addicted to playing slot machines.

Aside from Clark's novel, some modern works of fiction that portray gambling addiction include Swimming with Bridgeport Girls by Anthony Tambakis and The Ballad of a Small Player by Lawrence Osborne. One of the most famous depictions of compulsive gambling in classic literature is Fyodor Dostoyevsky's The Gambler, a short novel inspired by the author's own gambling problem.

Slot machine in casino, by Markus Spiske

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