Book Review: Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison

J.T. Ellison’s fast-paced new novel invites readers to a destination wedding on the enchanting Isla Isola. A wedding none will forget—and some won’t survive...

Claire Hunter, an up-and-coming artist, is ready to say “I do” to the handsome, uber-rich Jack Compton on his family’s private island, Isla Isola, in the ultimate destination wedding. The idyllic Italian island has enough room and entertainment for all their friends, family, and enemies.

Despite having the perfect dress, the perfect location, and the perfect groom, Claire knows something is very, very wrong. She is attacked in her apartment the night before she is scheduled to fly to Europe. During the fight, Claire kills the intruder. Jack’s family’s influence gets her out of the U.S. and away from the investigation in time for her wedding. But trouble follows her on to the Comptons’ private island.    

Her Dark Lies by J.T. Ellison highlights all the reasons you should reconsider your destination wedding. Just kidding. But not really. The beautiful Italian island, the villa, the grounds, and Jack’s family harbor some dark secrets that refuse to stay buried. Isla Isola’s ownership dates back to Julius Caesar—yes, the Julius Caesar. It’s an island filled with violent secrets, mysterious and gothic.

Isla Isola is one of those settings that become a living, breathing, active character in and of itself. Ellison ensures the reader sees the windswept countryside, the raging ocean beyond the rocky shores, and the twists and turns of the villa which was built straight into the earth itself. The island is both a romantic hideaway and a harbinger of haunted things. Without this atmosphere, the tragic circumstances of the story would fall flat. 

And there is indeed tragedy. Tragedy as old as the island.    

The first thing confronting Claire is the strange discovery of a body. She and Jack are greeted with this unfortunate news just as they arrive, unable to even exit the ferry when they get to the island.  

Jack doesn’t normally command me. I’m so shocked I halt immediately, and he surges ahead, disappearing into the crowd. I stand awkwardly alone, shivering in the salty breeze. I can hear Italian, spoken very quickly, much too fast for me to follow even the few words I’ve picked up, then Jack’s baritone, all overlaid with a cacophony of seagulls – the island’s rookery for wayward birds must be nearby. I’m just grateful for the solid ground. Maybe I was getting a little seasick.

 

Jack reemerges moments later, his face pale.

 

“The timing is impeccable,” he grumbles.

 

“Are they here for us?”

 

“No. The restoration people dug up a body.”

 

“A body? Whose?”

 

“No idea. Sorry, technically it’s not a body, it’s a skeleton. Remains. This happens frequently in historical restoration.”

 

“Remains?” I’ve had just about enough death for a lifetime. Two bodies in two days?

If only the body count remained at two…

As the countdown to the wedding continues the death toll mounts and more and more secrets are unburied. Including the truth about Jack’s first wife, who died under mysterious circumstances. Someone on the island has a long memory and refuses to let Jack, and now Claire, ignore the past. 

Claire already knew that Jack was married before. In fact, she’s developed a perhaps unhealthy interest in his first wife, Morgan. Claire stares at internet photos of Morgan. She reads articles about the other half of the “power couple.” She tries to understand why Jack loved this woman who seems so very different from herself.

Everywhere Claire looks, there are reminders that Morgan has been here before. The dead woman’s presence is in the prenup Jack’s parents ask her to sign, it’s in the pearl necklace Claire receives, and it’s in the incoming storm clouds. 

Secrets, however, have a way of coming to the surface. And now Claire’s groom, the handsome and caring Jack must confront his past without letting Claire in on the truth. Because those ‘historical remains’ have been identified. 

“I want to see the body, and I refuse to take no for an answer.”

 

“Fine,” his mother snaps at him, finished. “She’s been taken to the crypt. I trust you can manage to say your goodbyes without alerting Claire to this story? There’s no need for her to know Morgan died here. Let her, like the rest of the world, think she went missing in California. I refuse to have you implicated Jackson. That tramp wasn’t worth it.”

 

“Mother

 

“If you won’t do it for yourself, do it for Claire. Do you think she’d really understand if she knew the whole truth?”

 

“Yes, I do. You underestimate her, Mom. Trust me, she is stronger than you know.”

Claire’s strength is about to be tested. Because someoneor somethingdoesn’t want her marrying Jack. She receives frightening texts. Her wedding dress is ruined. Glass is strewn in her bathroom. And the bodies in the crypt are piling up. 

Her Dark Lies has garnered comparisons to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebeccaso if you’re looking for a well-crafted gothic closed-door mystery, J.T. Ellison has delivered one. The events of this weekend on Isla Isola will stick with the reader long after the last page turns.

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