I wanted to like this more than I did. The premise is intriguing.
The White Lie is a suspense combining the paranormal with the psychological. The story is set in modern day Scotland and is narrated by the ghost of Michael Salter.
Early on, Michael’s mentally unstable aunt Ursula confesses to killing her nineteen-year-old nephew by drowning him in the loch.
A great start.
To the aristocratic Salter family, Ursula’s confession is filled with inconsistency and appears absurd.
I was hooked.
When the family fail to find Michael’s body, they decide to hide his murder. Many of them are not even convinced he is dead. Some believe he took off to escape the rigidity of life with the high-born Salters and make his own way in the world.
To protect Ursula, they concoct their own tale to account for his disappearance. Or are they really protecting themselves? And from what? That Michael ran away, without even a good-bye to his own mother? Or the fact his aunt told the truth about what happened to him on the loch? It gets a little jumbled.
The book started to lose me about here.
Anyway, this alternate tale creates the basis of The White Lie, though it is certainly not the only lie nor the only secret kept by the fractured Salter family.
Years pass and the family are planning a seventieth birthday celebration for Michael’s grandmother, Edith Salter. As the preparations get underway, the dissent among the family members becomes more obvious. The reader senses the growing unrest between different generations, which centers on the truth behind Michael’s disappearance.
At this point, I was quite confused by the number of characters and the part they all played in the family.
The ghost of Michael’s great uncle David, who died in WWI, also haunts the woods near the family’s residence at Peattie House. The beginning chapters are suspenseful and brimming with conspiracy; a fascinating insight into a dysfunctional family.
However, the reader is challenged early on by the large cast of characters and the continual switch between past and present. At times, it becomes difficult to keep track of both the cast and the truth. As the narrator tells the story, we find ourselves tangled up with what really happened and the misrepresentations of the truth woven by various members of the family.
Though long, awkward sentences are spread throughout the text, the writing is mostly quite beautiful. The pace is slow and, at times, cumbersome. While the detailed descriptions take the reader deep into the setting, they tend to drag and drift, leaving the reader a little restless.
The characters are deeply layered and deeply flawed. It makes them realistic. The bottom of the story seems just out of reach. Always. As soon as one truth is uncovered, we learn there are other truths still hidden, and all of them shielding the family from the most damaging exposure of all. For me, it tends towards frustrating.
The pending disclosure of the darkest secret – what really happened to Michael Salter – is what keeps us reading.
Throughout the story, the landmark birthday celebration is simmering in the background. It is the thread that weaves all the story elements together. As the big day approaches, we anticipate the grand finale, so it comes as no surprise when the White Lie begins to unravel soon after the family members gather.
At the gathering, the only person who knows the entire truth starts to reveal it, but by this time, we’re not even sure what The White Lie is, as more sinister and truly shocking secrets are laid bare.
The White Lie is an absorbing plot line, a story filled with lies and surprises, but it drifts aimlessly in places and goes on for too long. Shortened by 100 or so pages, this could have been better.