Book Review: A Harmless Lie by Sara Blaedel

A woman is haunted by a heartwrenching decision she made as a teenager in A Harmless Lie, the darkly atmospheric, deeply emotional thriller from #1 internationally bestselling global superstar Sara Blaedel.

The tenth book in the Louise Rick mystery series is a highly accessible jumping on point for new readers like myself, as the body of a teenage girl who went missing on a school trip two decades ago is found, unearthing secrets and lies thought long buried with her disappearance.

But that’s not what sends Homicide Detective Louise Rick hurtling home to Denmark from a planned family vacation in Thailand. Her brother Mikkel has attempted suicide after his partner Trine walks out on him and their kids again. Everyone in the family is bewildered, as it looked like Mikkel and Trine were getting along just fine. But she’d emptied out the jar with their vacation money one afternoon and taken off without even a note, leaving Mikkel despondent and their two small children bereft.

Mikkel and Louise’s parents quickly step in to help, as does Louise herself. They both know that Liselotte, Trine’s often absent mother, will be of no use with looking after the kids. But when Liselotte accuses the hospitalized Mikkel of having harmed Trine, and the police of small town Osted take her seriously, Louise must start thinking more like a detective than a sister in order to find out what truly happened to the other woman. The first question, of course, is whether her devastated brother is really as innocent as she assumes:

“I was so scared,” [Louise] whispered as she sank down into her chair. “Scared you would die before I got home. I said my goodbyes to you so many times up there in the air, the whole time I was afraid it was too late. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have screamed at you. I didn’t mean it. I’ve just been so, so scared.”

 

“I’m sorry,” he said again. “This time Trine isn’t coming back.”

 

Louise sat up and studied him carefully. His eyes were focused on his hands, which were folded on top of the duvet. He was pale, and small drops of sweat still glistened on his forehead.

 

“What makes you say that?”

 

He hesitated a moment. “It’s just what I think.”

Meanwhile, Louise’s old friend, investigative reporter Camilla Lind, is hot on the case of Susan Dahlgaard, the missing teenager whose near-mummified body was found in a shallow cave, trapped by a tree that had fallen in the storm that raged the night she disappeared. Camilla isn’t exactly sure that a crime was involved, but her reporter’s instincts sense that there’s definitely a story here. Susan’s corpse was found miles away from the harbor where her friends say they left her on that fateful night. Susan had been threatening to run away to Copenhagen where her beloved older brother lived, so it was assumed she’d made good on her threat and disappeared, as so many unfortunate kids do, in the cracks of a busy metropolis. What, then, had she been doing hiding and dying in the forests of Echo Valley instead?

Intertwined with these two cases are the personal lives of both Louise and Camilla, who must contend with unreliable partners and distant children as they try to do their jobs. The women are well aware of the parallels between their own lives and the tragedies they’re each investigating, though that doesn’t make the pain hurt any less. Here Camilla meditates on the issues driving a wedge between herself and her son:

Her cheeks were burning, but her fingers felt ice cold. Her little son. The one who only yesterday, or so it seemed, was always having to be driven to his break-dancing classes or to play-dates with friends. Her skin crawled; she shook inside from anxiety.

 

She felt an overwhelming loss of control, loss of her son’s love. There was no one she felt closer to or loved more than her son, and right now he was slipping through her fingers. He was heading in a different direction and didn’t need her to be the rock in his life anymore.

Part of the issue, as both Camilla and a killer in these pages need to learn, is that you have to let your kids grow up and be their own people. Too much parenting is just as bad as too little. As Louise and Camilla discover that their cases intersect, and that they can probably help each other out and save lives in the process, they must race against time before a tragedy from decades earlier claims more victims due to what was once thought a harmless lie. 

In addition to the mysteries and the heartaches of our main characters, I also found it fascinating to read Louise’s discomfort at being on the other end of a police investigation, not on her own behalf, but on a loved one’s. Her reactions were realistically ambivalent, knowing that the police were just doing their jobs but also chafing at what she felt was their time-wasting in going after an innocent person. I’m curious to see whether this newfound sense of perspective is something she’ll take with her and use to good effect in future installments of her absorbing series, especially given the change of heart she develops in these pages regarding her career trajectory.

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