“One Perfect Lie” by Lisa Scottoline is a home run. Baseball is the springboard for the riveting mystery that includes a lot of curve balls. Not only do the characters deceive each other, but with the many twists and turns so will the readers. This suburban domestic crime thriller plays off the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing that looms powerfully in the background.
“Last year I was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Philadelphia Phillies game for ladies night,” Scottoline said. “Honestly, I do not know how to pitch. I started to go the high school where my daughter graduated from to get pointers from the team. I noticed the different relationships between the moms and dads, the children and between the team and the coach. Although this coach was enlightened, encouraging and friendly, it got me to think what if there was a coach who was the direct opposite, manipulative and uncaring. I like writing ‘what if’ stories. BTW: The pitch I threw out was not that bad.”
The plot begins with Chris Brennan applying for a teaching and coaching job at Central Valley High School in Pennsylvania. He is hired as an AP Government teacher and baseball coach. He is looking for the right student to act as his pawn and apprentice for an unsavory evil job. On the same day that Timothy McVeigh blew up a federal building it appears Chris is planning his own bombing. He uses the Constitutional debate in the classroom to find the right teenager that can be manipulated, and then as the baseball coach makes sure he builds that bond by intentionally causing friction among the teammates.
Pennsylvania is the setting for every book of Scottoline and the spring books can be considered suburban noirs.
“When I write, I usually try to have a strong sense of place,” she said. “Since I live on a farm, I am concerned about fracking. I touched on this in the book, since it is a real Pennsylvania problem. I also wanted to get across in this story the difficulty of raising a child in this suburban world. Each mother had a problem in their life that affected how they interacted with their sons who also had some psychological issues. Every character is in effect lying to themselves and to the outside world.”
The three boys for consideration by Chris to enact what appears to be a deadly plan are Raz Sematov, Jordan Larkin and Evan Kostis. Each has secrets and particular challenges that include their perspective relationship with their moms.
Raz is still emotionally struggling with the recent loss of his father; Jordan has never known his father and lives with his hardworking single mother; and Evan, a child of privilege, sees his parent’s marriage falling apart.
Through Chris’s eyes readers see the interaction between the boys on and off the baseball field, and how they react to their mother’s circumstances. Susan, Raz’s mom, has guilt feelings for failing to step up and take control of the floundering family after her husband and their father dies. She is at a loss on how to parent her two teenage sons who are acting out. Mindy, Evan’s mom, stays at home and succumbs to the pressure of being a surgeon’s wife by filling her days with social events and too many gin and tonics. She suspects her husband of having an affair, using social media to try to find answers. Heather, Jordan’s mom, is the most likable, because of her being very grounded. A hardworking single mom, she is counting on a baseball scholarship for Jordan so he can attend college. Despite their financial struggles and lack of a male role model, Jordan is well-adjusted and never gives Heather any reason to worry about him, that is until she sees the baseball team sexting a naked female to each other.
Because social media plays such an important role in teenage life today, Scottoline wanted to make the point, “It is too much of a trip. Sexting should not be accepted as a norm. Even if the picture is texted to one person it should never be sent around, and in doing so, it is actually theft. People need to remember that once put on social media they can never take anything back.”
The mystery comes into play as the ATF agents try to find the bomber and what are his motivations. The supervisor, known as “The Rabbi,” is a supporting character that has a big impact on the plot. He is intelligent, caring, and effectively juggles work and family.
Scottoline nicknamed the ATF character “The Rabbi,” because in the large law firm she worked for “I had a mentor who we called ‘The Rabbi.’ I always thought of him as a teacher and a voice of reason. To me a Rabbi signifies a leader. In the book the undercover agent looked up to this character. It was a loving nickname representing the wise one.”
To make the story very accurate a lot of research was done including, “interviewing for three hours the Philadelphia head of ATF, the second in command, and an actual undercover agent. I think many readers get their truth about criminal and police procedure from fiction so it is imperative I get it right. The truth is government agencies will cooperate with any writer because they want the way it really works to be out there. I hoped to show in this book how collecting information by the agencies often collides with protecting people’s privacy, which includes how evidence is obtained.”
This story was hit out of the park. The many issues of teenage relationships, technology, sexting, class distinction and the ever-present mother-son relationships makes the story even more intriguing. The two b’s: baseball and bombs combine to make the mystery riveting, action-packed, and gripping. Readers should be aware things are not as they seem on the surface.