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by Theresa Schwegel
Minotaur, July 2017
368 pages
ISBN: 1250001781

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Chicago cop with multiple sclerosis who is raising her drug-addicted brother's child while on a crusade to help an Alzheimer's patient whose son has mistreated her—I so want to cheer on this author because of the stand she takes here for decency. I am speaking here about real decency, not decency concerning how many tattoos you have or how much personal real estate your wardrobe choices reveal, and not decency concerning whether you go to church/synagogue/mosque weekly/daily/during high holy days. However, for a novel, its moral universe is not all. Theresa Schwegel's first-person point-of-view character, the female cop who, despite the odds, will save the day, is far from admirable. In fact, if we are moving into a period of mystery-writing in which the main goal is to show the many idiocies of the guys and gals in the white hats, count me out. I see idiocy every day, and I don't even have to turn on the television. Idiocy is boring and average. Genius and toughness are not.

Dramatis personae: Gina Simonetti, police officer in Chi-city who has advancing MS, and who takes every opportunity to complain about how it makes her feel; Isabel, her brother's two-year-old daughter, for whom Gina is acting as her single mom; George, Gina's brother, out of work, a bit of a loser, attempting to stay clear of drugs; Maricarmen, woman down the street who provides daycare for Isabel in trade for soft drinks; Johnny Marble, man who has apparently beat his mother and sister; Kay St. Clair, Johnny's elderly mother, stricken with Alzheimer's disease; James Novak, CEO of Sacred Heart Hospital, the hospital overseeing St. Clair's care; Dr. Kitasake, a caregiver who does not care very much; Heltman, a lawyer for the hospital; Calvin, a nurse who sells prescription drugs on the side; Robin Leone, Kay's live-in caregiver who is not nearly caring enough; Ray Weiss, a police officer whom Simonetti does not like and we don't ever really know why; Walter, a nerdy cop who tracks down cybercriminals, and who plays a major part in our novel.

Readers who begin THE LIES WE TELL find themselves in the mind of Gina Simonetti, the first-person narrator. The novel's title very likely takes its name from the fact that Gina has MS, yet conceals it from her co-workers. Very early, Gina attempts to apprehend a suspect, Johnny Marble, in the beating of his mother. Running down the stairwell of Sacred Heart Hospital, Gina draws her gun, but, since she has MS and her limbs are without feeling, she cannot keep her balance or hold her weapon. In an ensuing fight, the suspect runs off with Gina's weapon. In policing today, safety of the cop, safety of bystanders, and the rights of the accused are all of utmost importance. In chasing a suspect with arms and legs that no longer have any feeling to them, she endangers herself and anyone in the vicinity when the suspect snatches her gun and escapes.

And then she goes out drinking and has sex with a person she has only just met, even though she claims that her highest priority is taking care of her two-year-old niece. And then she goes on a sudden, ill-conceived chase of the suspect, leaving her niece in the hands of her drug-addicted brother and his girlfriend, who have just shown up at her house. While Gina is chasing criminals, Isabel suffers a concussion and must be rushed to the hospital. Gina fails so many times to connect the dots concerning public safety and the safety of her ward that I cannot imagine any actual police department would keep her on.

And then there are her interpersonal relationships. She hates everyone except Maricarmen, who offers childcare for next to nothing at the drop of a hat. She despises, and dodges the help of, her colleagues on the force, and we don't really know why. The author fails to develop relationships and personalities that make it clear why people don't get along. All in all, the portrait Schwegel presents is of a blundering idiot who endangers those around her and despises them to boot.

I suspect that Ms Schwegel is inspired by the writer of Steig Larsson's THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. However, while the eponymous Girl is a social outcast who knows and despises (and takes us through) a meaner world, the author is not the Girl, and he is in control, feeding us a brilliant and twisted plot while showing us the ugly things societies can do to their citizens.

Try again, Ms Schwegel. Or not.

§ Cathy Downs, Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, teaches American literature and is a fan, as well, of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, June 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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