Friday, May 11, 2012

The Whole Lie by Steve Ulfelder

I have a confession to make. Most of the time, once I've read a mystery, I donate it to the library. But, once in a while, I hang on to my first editions, hoping I'll meet the author someday. It's not that I want to sell a book and make money. I want to meet that author, and say thank you. Thank you for a wonderful book. I didn't meet Brad Parks until his third book was out. Now, I have two books waiting for Steve Ulfelder. His debut mystery, Purgatory Chasm was a finalist for the Edgar Award. I think his second Conway Sax mystery, The Whole Lie, is even better.

Conway Sax is an auto mechanic, a convicted felon, and a recovering alcoholic and drug addict. He's a man with a past that he can't forget, even when he's struggling to make a future. His girlfriend, Charlene, dragged herself up from addiction to become a wealthy woman. She and her daughter love Conway. But, Conway is a man who can't forgive himself, resents the fact that the woman he loves owns his garage, and he can't accept love. When Savvy Kane, a woman from his past shows up, she pushes all the right buttons. She, too, was a Barnburner, a member of the close-knit AA group that helped Conway maintain his sobriety. She claims a politician running for lieutenant governor of Massachusetts is the father of her son, and he's being blackmailed. Savvy wants Conway's help, and he never turns down a Barnburner. And, despite Charlene's anger and demands, Conway agrees to help Savvy.

Politics makes strange bedfellows, in so many ways in The Whole Lie. As Conway gets involved with the politicians, with Savvy, and with the search for a blackmailer, the story gets uglier and more violent, until it leads to murders, and more threats. Conway desperately needs a few friends to help him uncover The Whole Lie.

But, The Whole Lie isn't just about blackmail, politics and murder. The Whole Lie is about a recovering alcoholic who lives by his own code of honor.  It's about that man who still can't see the whole truth as to why he takes on impossible cases. And, he certainly can't see past the stories he tells others, or the truth he hides from them. And, as much as Conway loves Charlene and her daughter, Sophie, neither he nor Charlene know how a family is supposed to work. It's all of these qualities that make Conway Sax work as sympathetic character. He's not just a convicted felon willing to use violence if he has to. Conway Sax is a sensitive, struggling man, struggling to make a relationship work, while at the same time, struggling to honor pledges he made years ago. And, it's all those conflicts that tear Sax apart, threatening his future, his future life with Charlene, and his future sobriety.

The Whole Lie works as a complex mystery where the truth is buried under all kinds of lies. But, Ulfelder's novel also works as the story of a recovering alcoholic coping with all the lies alcoholics tell themselves and the people they love. And, all those lies in his own past enable Conway Sax, a recovering alcoholic, to recognize layers and layers of stories until he is able to uncover the truth in Steve Ulfelder's outstanding second mystery, The Whole Lie.

Steve Ulfelder's website is

The Whole Lie by Steve Ulfelder. Minotaur Books. 2012. ISBN 9780312604547 (hardcover), 312p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publicist sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.


Judith Starkston said...

I know what you mean about keeping a copy when you find an author that really hits a responsive cord. It's great to meet and talk to the author. For me, it also that I'm always afraid, with my horrible memory for names in general, that I'll somehow forget to keep track of what that writer is up to, when the next one comes out. But if I have him or her sitting there on the shelf, there's a friend to remind me.

Lesa said...

I like your thinking, Judith, that the author is right there as a friend to remind you. I can remember authors and titles. Don't ever ask me to remember a character's name unless the character is in a long-running series. Probably why I read all the Spenser books by Robert B. Parker. I could remember a one word name. (grin)

caite said...

I really liked his first book...must get the second! ASAP!

Lesa said...

I liked the second even more than the first, Caite. Hope you do, too!

UK said...

The strength of The Whole Lie is in the larger than life characters of Conway Sax, Savvy Kane, and baby-daddy Bert Saginaw. In signature Ulfelder style, everyone is a suspect, everyone has an angle, and everyone is lying. Throw in some campaign secrets, blackmail photos, and the fact that every time Sax thinks he has the killer, that person ends up dead, and you have a thrilling tale that moves at NASCAR speed. I had a guess who was hidden under the red dots on the photos, but . . . I. Was. Wrong.

Ulfelder's racing experience comes through as Sax looks at things through the eyes of a driver and a mechanic. The motorcycle has been tampered with. It's subtle, but a driver knows that it doesn't feel right. The back seat of the car clicks when he sits on it. A mechanic knows it's not properly mounted. The clues are there for the reader, if you are willing to look through Conway's eyes.