Review: Favors and Lies

I decided to buy and read a copy of Mark Gilleo’s novel, Favours and Lies, because it received an award at a recent book festival. (One always wants to understand what other successful writers are doing.)

The brief biography at the back of the book says: “Mark Gilleo holds a graduate degree in international business from the University of South Carolina and an undergraduate degree in business form George Mason University. He enjoys traveling, hiking and biking. He speaks Japanese. A fourth-generation Washingtonian, he currently resides in the DC area. His first two novels, Love thy Neighbor and the national best seller Sweat were recognised as finalist and semi-finalist, respectively, in the William Faulkner-Wisdom creative writing competition.”

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This photo appears on his website.

Favours and Lies concerns Dan Lord, a private investigator with a law degree and a selected list of clients. He works in the DC area on ‘the blurred line between right and wrong’. When his brother’s widowed sister-in-law, Vicky, and her son, Conner, die under very strange circumstances, Dan takes a particular interest. Vicky dies in an apparent suicide and Conner dies of what seems like a drug overdose. Neither of these deaths make sense to Dan. Then the detective who was investigating the deaths of mother and son is killed, as is the son’s girlfriend. Dan finds that the records of several key phone calls have disappeared, and Dan engages a computer wizard to find out what happened to the phone call on-line records. There is a secretive company, the address and phone number of which are unlisted. There is a high class madam, a Russian intelligence officer, a medical doctor, a barber, a martial arts trainer an assistant district attorney, a night club owner, with whom Dan exchanges favors and lies in order to find the killers of his relatives. Some of these people end up dead; Dan, nearly so on several occasions. Toward the conclusion of the novel, we learn the reason for Conner’s death, and of the illegal conspiracy which lay behind it. The motivation for Conner’s death and those responsible is quite a shocking surprise. Fortunately, the favors given to Dan by those friends who remain alive are repaid.

Favors and Lies is a fast-moving book, which is difficult to put down: one wants to find out what happens next. The characters are distinctive and interesting, but they are ‘on stage’ for such short periods, in many cases, and described in terms of their appearance and history more than in terms of their values. One feels little empathy for many of them, the exceptions being Dan and Detective Wallace. The dialogue is clipped and punchy, fully in keeping with a fast-moving detective thriller. The locations of the various scenes are described is such detail that one senses the author’s pride in his familiarity with the streets of the US capital. There is some technology on which the plot for Favors and Lies depends, but it is pretty much understandable. For me – a very literal-minded person – the difficulty I have with Favors and Lies is the credibility of the plot, taken as a rapid-fire whole. But, in the genre of gripping, no-holds-barred detective stories, there are few better.

 

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