Tell Me No Lies
by Linda Hope Lee
(Five Star, $26.95, G) ISBN 1-59414-416-8
***
I'd better begin by confessing that I wasn't looking forward to reading Tell Me No Lies. I'm not fond of The-Big-Secret-That-Will-Keep-Us-Apart premises (they rank just a little below The Big Misunderstanding and The Other Woman in my list of worn-out devices and overused storylines), and both the title and the back cover make it very clear that's what this book is about. They aren't telling any lies about it, either. The story is as predictable as the usual run of the mill.

Julie Foster has been hired to paint several murals in Cooperville, Washington. She would be completely over the moon about what could well be a fabulous beginning to her career were it not for her family's history in the area. Many years ago, her grandfather skipped town after he was accused of embezzling the Cooperville Bank. Julie immediately senses that the person who hired her, Millie Linscott, whose family owns the bank, has neither forgiven nor forgotten Benjamin Gabriel. This isn't enough to make Julie give up the commission: she isn't working for the bank; Ben was never found guilty; and, in any case, no one will be able to trace her relationship to him.

Julie arrives in town, and the secret begins to weigh heavier. She learns, to her horror, that she will be painting a mural for the bank. Worse, her grandfather is also the major suspect in Millie's husband's unsolved murder. And, wouldn't you know it, Julie is immediately attracted to Millie's grandson, Gregory, whose obvious interest in her is counterbalanced by his special dislike for liars. In case, we miss that point, we are reminded several times how he broke up with his former girlfriend after he found out she had been misleading him about her social origins.

Julie denies the attraction as long as she can, but what will be will be. Of course, she agonizes for several chapters about telling the truth. Of course, she never finds the right moment. Of course, we have the inevitable showdown. And of course, everything is nicely wrapped up at the end.

Tell Me No Lies isn't badly written. It even has one or two good moments. Oddly enough, the most interesting parts could easily have been eliminated without changing the course of the romance. Without bombarding us with too many details, the novel describes the process of mural painting - from archival explorations to heated committee debates about which pictures would best represent the town's history and achievements; from building the scaffolding to laying out the plans; from sketching images on the wall to painting them in. References to these steps anchor the developing romance in a clear timeline and add a touch of realism. I lapped up the information. I'm still not sure, though, whether I was genuinely interested or whether I was grasping at anything that would distract me from the predictable plot and the bland characters. If only Ms Lee had used her talents at description and her familiarity with artistic techniques to compose a more riveting story.

--Mary Benn


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