"Depth of Lies" by E.C. Diskin
Shea, a seemingly happy mother in her 50s drowns in the bathtub of her hotel room on the Lake Erie Island of South Bass in the village of Put-in-Bay — 5 hours away from her Chicago home.
Is it an accidental death, fueled by the popping of some pills paired with the consumption of too much alcohol? (It is Put-in-Bay, after all)
Was it suicide? Perhaps her family and friends were ignorant to some secret torments she was actually suffering.
Or, was it something more...sinister?
The search for the answer to these questions propels the plot of Depth of Lies by E.C. Diskin.
At the core of this novel was a compelling plot and a truly intriguing mystery that left me guessing until the very end (I know, it’s cliche, but it did).
In a style reminiscent of the long-ago hour drama Desperate Housewives, Diskin wove an intricate fabric of relationships, creating multiple threads of suspicion and leaving readers truly perplexed.
Impressively, despite all of the potential perpetrators Diskin presented — and the still-present possibilities that the death was an accident or a suicide — the plot still felt largely believable, leaving readers feeling more like they are getting a backstage tour of a complex community and less like they are dodging obvious red-herrings.
When the truth was revealed, it was done so in a highly effective way. I read the concluding chapters in bed, in the dark, as my heart raced and my palms grew clammy.
Any time a book can elicit this amount of physical reaction, it is definitely appreciated.
Additionally endearing (for me at least) was the fact that this book was set on Put-in-Bay, known not just for its natural beauty but also for its raucous nightlife.
While I myself have never over-indulged on this island, I have friends who have spent more time appreciating the pristine beauty of the gleaming, white hotel toilet bowl than the aesthetics of the island landscape.
So, this is an obvious 5 cocktail read, right?
Well, Houston, we have a problem.
Despite the strength of the plot and my personal connection to the setting, I was significantly unimpressed by the way in which the story was told.
The writing itself was graceless and utilitarian. Events were described in chunky and simplistic terms, giving readers little insight into the characters’ emotions — resulting in a definite dearth of overall depth.
The novel as a whole was exceptionally light on description. What did Rudolph’s — the bar in Put-in-Bay look like? No idea... because this was never shared with readers.
True, this is a modern thriller, not a woefully long classic, so I don’t expect chapter-long descriptions of shimmering wheat that the wind that sweeps gracefully through or anything. But, at the same time, much of the book is set on or around Lake Erie, so there is actually much to describe. Adding description judiciously could have done much to connect the readers with the setting, which would have increased their investment in the book as a whole.
I also found the character development to be a bit wanting — which is a serious issue in a thriller as, at least for me, my overall enjoyment of the book hinges significantly on whether or not I give a fuck about the characters.
And I pretty much didn’t give a fuck about the characters in this novel — because I didn’t feel like they were real people.
When the book opens, we are presented with a relatively large cast of characters, but none are described with much depth.
Aside from weakening my connection to the book, this was a problem for me as I struggled to keep track of these characters using the limited information I had been given.
Does Kat own the beach house? Or is to Tori? And who’s Evelyn again? Wait. Which one is the one with cancer?
In fairness to the author, this is a known challenge when dealing with a large collection of characters. I experienced similar difficulty when I first started reading Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty, a book that I ended up quite enjoying.
Remembering the experience I had with Moriarty’s book, I expected Diskin to continue to return to her characters’ backstories, presenting more information as we moved through the novel. Unfortunately, she really didn’t. We did learn bits and pieces about these characters, but not enough to make any of them feel like real, authentic individuals.
There was a major missed opportunity here, as this necessary character development could have been accomplished through dialogue, but it wasn’t.
While there was a lot of dialogue, which I can jibe with if it sounds realistic and believable, the verbal interactions described felt stilted, forced and inauthentic.
All in all, the dialogue was largely one-note, and the characters didn’t have distinctive voices that differentiated one from the other.
As I finished the book, I found myself exceptionally conflicted.
On one hand, Diskin’s plot was honestly quite good. This is one of the few books that legitimately left me guessing throughout. I really wanted to highly recommend it. I mean, it’s set in Put-in-Bay. I should love this.
But, unfortunately, the seriously lacking writing style and deficit of character development were such significant flaws that I simply couldn’t be as enamored with this book as I wanted to be.
In the end, I give it 3 out of 5 cocktails.
It is definitely not a novel I would urge all readers to go out and pick up, but it is one that fans of thrillers will likely find enjoyable — particularly fans of thrillers who have ever ventured to Put-in-Bay.
I love a good mystery, but so often I have it all figured out long before I get to the final chapters. Give me some ideas of what I should read next. What book kept you guessing to the end? Tell me in the comments below.
As I write this review, I’m already into my next book. Want to see what it is? Check it out, here.