When I read Jamie Mason's first book, Three Graves Full, my response was wow, this is going to be a great writer; I can't wait to read what she does next. I was SO excited to see her next book, Monday's Lie, when it showed up at Netgalley. And while it wasn't quite the masterpiece I was hoping for, I'm watching her get better and better, and it's a really fun ride.
The pieces of this book are great. Our protagonist and narrator, Dee, was raised with her brother by a single mom, who was amazing. She was a spy, and she taught her kids to be mini-Sherlock-Holmeses--observing everything, deducing everything. She was smart and wise and loving, but her life was messy, and Dee has moved as far away from it as possible by marrying the most conventional man she could find. She is determinedly normal.
There are sort of three converging parts of the story: flashbacks to Dee's childhood, including stories of her mother's adventures; the story of her marriage to Patrick and the normal, normal, normal life she's been working on; and the present moment, where she's driving somewhere to meet someone for we know not what till the climax of the book.
And here Jamie Mason does the same thing she did last time--she takes what is essentially one huge, ripping good scene, and builds a novel around the backstory of that scene. Now, the backstory is great, but it's clearly backstory, even when it's shown instead of told. Everything converges on the "present" moment, and the most detail and energy is put into it, but it's not the most compelling part of the story.
Her mother, Annette, is the most compelling part of the story. I'm not an expert, and I have to assume Mason did her research, but the spy stuff seems really sketchy to me. She's a single mom whose kids know she's a spy, but aren't supposed to tell the neighbors? I mean, how is that secure? She lives at home for months at a time and then goes off for days or weeks on missions, okay, but then there are also people coming to their house in the middle of the night doing shady business? Is that how spying works? It seems pretty unconvincing.
But Annette, with her sharp charm and cool wit, really makes the story. Dee's life revolves around her--her mysteries, her lessons, her absences, her warmth--long after she's gone. Dee's marriage is a direct reaction to her unconventional upbringing, and the cracks in her marriage show how, in trying to give her children something more than others have, Annette may have deprived them of basic lessons that most people take for granted.
I love a book about uncovering deception, about spying and poking around and figuring out what's really going on with people who are ostensibly being honest with you. And that story was fine here. But the place where this book succeeds is in being a book about mothers and daughters, and in that place it's excellent. Keep 'em coming, Jamie Mason.