REVIEW: The Five-Year Lie by Sarina Bowen

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I’ve enjoyed so many Bowen romances over the years – a number of college hockey books and then professional hockey books. (Hockey is my least favorite of the Big 4 of American sports, but somehow it’s 99% of of my sports-related romance reading. Go figure.) I’ve also read a couple that weren’t hockey-related. When I heard she had a new suspense book, I snapped it up.

I would say The Five-Year Lie is more of a romance/suspense hybrid, told in a split timeline and with most of the romance content taking place in the earlier timeline.

In the present day, Ariel Cafferty is in a Monday morning team meeting when her phone lights up with an incoming text. Her heart stops when she realizes it’s from a voice from the past – Drew, who she had a whirlwind romance with five years before. The message urges Ariel to come to their meeting spot in the park as soon as possible. There are a couple of issues with that though – number one, Drew disappeared abruptly from her life with no explanation and number two, he is dead.

It turns out that the message was part of a snafu on the part of a cell-phone provider – Ariel and many other people got messages that had been sent five years before and never received. Ariel is still intrigued by the message though – Drew disappeared out of her life without a word, and now she finds that *he* did try to contact her.

Ariel works for the family business, a doorbell security company called Chime that sounded a bit like Ring. She has worked there for years and is comfortable with her office manager position being a perquisite of being the daughter and niece of the two founders. Ariel appreciates the easiness of the job, since it allows her to pursue her artistic passion – glassblowing, and also take care of her young son, Buzz. Yes, Drew left something behind when he left.

(I kind of groaned at the secret kid trope, though since it was Drew that took off and then died, he wasn’t really a secret kid. Also, Ariel has a sentimental reason for calling her son Buzz. I still HATED the name – apologies to any fans of it out there.)

In the earlier timeline Ariel meets Drew when he’s hired by the family company. She doesn’t know that he has an ulterior motive for working there, or that Drew is not his real name. Drew is ambivalent about getting involved with Ariel; he’s on a mission and he doesn’t want to be distracted, nor does he want to hurt Ariel. But their attraction is undeniable, and soon they’re in love.

On the day that Drew disappears, Ariel’s father dies suddenly. He isn’t exactly mourned; he was hyper-critical of Ariel and abusive to most of the people around him. Ariel’s uncle (her father’s brother; co-owner of the company) is much more likable and has been in a relationship with Ariel’s mother since shortly after her father’s passing.

Sometime after Drew disappears, Ariel finds an obituary detailing his death in a motorcycle accident in North Carolina. This leaves her as a single parent to Buzz, and until the wayward text, she doesn’t question any of the events that have lead up to the present day.

The suspense plot involves Chime possibly being involved in some shady things with their products – they apparently heavily market the cameras to police and there is evidence of corruption and surveillance misuse related to that. I thought this aspect of the story was fresh and interesting and realistically scary. The nitty-gritty of the tech stuff was sometimes a bit tedious, but not enough to detract from the story significantly.

One thing I liked was that Drew was not portrayed as uber-competent in his espionage – unbeknownst to him, he is actually caught in his sleuthing activities pretty quickly. It’s not that he’s incompetent, just that he’s in over his head a bit, which felt realistic to me. Drew is an Army veteran who lost part of his leg to an IED, and while he has something of a tech background (enough to get hired at Chime, anyway) he is more of an action type than a computer savant. He has personal reasons for trying to dig up information on Chime’s activities.

In the present day storyline, Ariel tries to understand what happened when Drew left, but her investigation, with the help of another Chime employee, leads to sinister happenings. There is a break-in at her house that leaves her terrified for the safety of her son. Ariel doesn’t know who to trust since her family and the police are both implicated in these events.

It’s hard to talk about one of my issues with this book without delving into a spoiler, so here goes:

I was pretty engrossed in The Five-Year Lie when I was reading it but in retrospect my feelings are a little less enthusiastic. The writing was decent and the plot held my attention, but the melding of suspense and romance didn’t quite work. Ariel was a pretty strong heroine but the other characters – except perhaps Zain, Ariel’s computer geek co-worker – were kind of bland and superficial. My grade for this was a low B.

Best,

Jennie

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Jennie

has been an avid if often frustrated romance reader for the past 15 years. In that time she’s read a lot of good romances, a few great ones, and, unfortunately, a whole lot of dreck. Many of her favorite authors (Ivory, Kinsale, Gaffney, Williamson, Ibbotson) have moved onto other genres or produce new books only rarely, so she’s had to expand her horizons a bit. Newer authors she enjoys include Julie Ann Long, Megan Hart and J.R. Ward, and she eagerly anticipates each new Sookie Stackhouse novel. Strong prose and characterization go a long way with her, though if they are combined with an unusual plot or setting, all the better. When she’s not reading romance she can usually be found reading historical non-fiction.

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