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The Liar's Lullaby by Meg Gardiner (May 2010, Blue Door, ISBN: 0007337620)
THE LIAR'S LULLABY is the third book in a series featuring Jo Beckett, in a role I’d not encountered before in a novel, that of forensic psychiatrist. Her job is to evaluate the state of mind of the victim prior to death, and to determine, for example, whether that person was likely to have committed suicide, or not, the options being: Natural, Accidental, Suicide or Homicide (NASH). In this case, the victim is a famous singer, Tasia McFarland, ex-wife of the current President of the United States (McFarland), who apparently kills herself in spectacular fashion, by shooting herself at the start of her act in front of an audience of thousands, at the Giant’s ballpark in San Francisco. However, when she died, Tasia was suspended on a Zip-line, and surrounded by a fog of carbon dioxide gas, the play-back video is inconclusive, and the bullet can’t be found. She could have shot herself with the gun that she had with her, but she could equally well have been murdered.
Jo starts by interviewing the people who saw Tasia just before she died, who tell Jo that Tasia seemed to be terrified of something just before she died, and had had a gun on her, which she refused to give up, claiming she needed it because otherwise ‘he’ll get me’. But she also finds out that Tasia was mentally unstable, and had bipolar disorder, so it’s not clear if there was a real threat or not.
Next Jo goes to Tasia’s house as part of her investigation into Tasia’s state of mind before her death. There, she disturbs someone who has broken into the house, and is attacked. This is someone called ‘Noel Michael Petty’ (or NMP), whom we discover seems to have a fascination for Tasia, so much so that they have broken into her house after the shooting, to discover her private side. Jo calls the police, and Ace Chennault, Tasia’s unofficial biographer, who just happens to be hanging around outside the house, chases after NMP. But then he is attacked, landing up in hospital, and NMP escapes. Jo then turns her attention to the intruder, thinking that they could be a stalker and might be responsible for Tasia’s death. Tasia’s sister, Vienna, then gives Jo a cell phone that used to belong to Tasia, which is full of messages from someone called ‘Archangel X’, messages that get angrier and angrier as Tasia doesn’t reply, as she seems to have ignored them. Could this person be NMP, and could they have become so angry that they were responsible for Tasia’s death?
Jo then finds out that Tasia met with the President just three days before her death, and tries to talk to McFarland to find out why, without any success. She does eventually manage to talk to his chief of staff, Kelvin Lewicki, but is unable to find out why, or what the meeting was about.
Finally, the story also involves a person called Paine, who contributes to an on-line anti-government website called ‘Tree of Liberty’, and has two main supporters, Keyes and Ivory. He claims that Tasia was shot by a high powered rifle, by someone in the crowd below, but that this will be covered up by the government, and used as an excuse to crack down on their freedom to hold personal firearms. He seems to have his own plans, and wants to ‘deliver’ his message somehow.
This is a complex story, with many twists and turns, and some clever use of technology to track down various suspects. There is a tense, dramatic ending, in which Jo’s life is put in danger, but she finally manages to piece it all together. No-one is quite whom they seem to be of course, but Jo follows up several false trails before finally working it all out. Highly entertaining, and one to keep you reading right up to the end.