has also reviewed:

Iron Lace

Once More With Feeling

Twice Upon a Time

Rising Tides

Beautiful Lies by Emilie Richards
(Mira, $5,99, PG) ISBN 1-55166-425-5
I've now reviewed four Emilie Richards books for The Romance Reader and firmly believe that the woman is an underrated gem. She has decades of experience writing compelling categories, historical novels, and contemporary romances. I don't want to make life difficult for book lovers out there, but Richards deserves to be a bestselling hardcover author just as much as, or even more so than, some of the "upstarts" out there who are making the leap to the "Big Time" after one or two successful paperbacks.

All of this is just a prelude to saying that Beautiful Lies is just one more example of Richards at her best. It is somewhat reminiscent of the author's historical novels, Iron Lace and Rising Tides, but more romantic and personal. Once I got through a somewhat slow first 100 pages, I was amazed to find myself reading the rest of the 500 page epic in less than 48 hours.

The majority of the novel takes place in contemporary California and Australia. Liana Robeson is frantic when her 14 year old son, Matthew, disappears on his way to meet Liana's ex-husband in New York for their annual month together. Ten years ago, Liana left Cullen Llewellyn behind in Australia after his compulsive gambling ruined their marriage. Liana finds that something else valuable is gone as well The Pearl of Great Price, a precious gem that has caused heartbreak and tragedy for Liana's and Cullen's families ever since it was discovered almost a century ago.

The story then shifts back to early 20th century Australia, where Liana's grandfather, Tom Robeson, and Cullen's great-grandfather, Archer Llewellyn, have arrived to make their fortunes. The men were Rough Riders in the United States Army until Archer saved Tom's life by killing a vengeful superior officer. The two fled to Australia to rebuild their lives. When they are offered a job with a pearling boat, they sign on. But Tom's overly trusting and tolerant nature eventually grates on Archer's pragmatic ambition, and when the men find the Pearl of Great Price, it causes discord, death, and a permanent rift between the two former best friends.

Liana and Cullen have to learn more about the Pearl's history and understand its impact on their families before they can track Matthew down. During their odyssey, they begin to find their way back to each other. But someone else is looking for Matthew as well, and their son's life may be in danger. And a few secrets that remain hidden might doom their chances for reconciliation.

Beautiful Lies alternates between Liana and Cullen's compelling contemporary relationship and tragic but powerful historical flashbacks. One section, focusing on Liana's half-Chinese Aunt Mei, is as darkly beautiful and borderline bizarre as a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel. Like a Chinese puzzle box, each generation has contributed a piece of the story that has led to the surprising but inevitable marriage between Liana and Cullen.

However, mistakes of the past have left the couple a tough legacy to overcome. Cullen has been raised by a taciturn father and had become a charming but compulsive gambler during his marriage to Liana. Liana, who lived with first a loving but irresponsible mother and then a cold but dutiful father, has chosen security over Cullen. Once a successful jewelry designer, she is now crippled by panic attacks and can barely set foot outside. Cullen has to prove to Liana that he has overcome his addiction, and Liana has to prove to herself that she can break free of her fears.

The families have fought over the Pearl of Great Price for almost a century, but in the end only one character realizes what has to happen to the beautiful but deadly gem to break free of its curse. The dramatic, surprising denouement makes for a perfect ending to a deeply satisfying novel. If you go for long, intense novels with multiple, unforgettable characters and complex relationships, run to your nearest bookstore and get a hold of Beautiful Lies. Put Emilie Richards on top of the bestseller list where she belongs.

--Susan Scribner

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