Best Intentions – Book Review

bestintentionsThe trajectory of any life, laid out across a table, reduced to jottings in a pad, would no doubt seem both damning and inane, our imperfections difficult to justify despite our best intentions. – from Best Intentions, page 302 –

Lisa Barkley seems to have it all – two beautiful daughters with enough money to afford private school for them, a handsome husband who is a journalist, and a prestigious job. But, beneath the seemingly perfect veneer are cracks. When Lisa listens to a voice mail on her husband Sam’s cell phone, she hears a woman’s whispered voice arranging a meeting. Lisa’s suspicions grow when inconsistencies appear in Sam’s itinerary for a story he is working on, and very quickly half-truths and omissions begin to add up to a certainty that Sam is having an affair. To make matters more complicated, Lisa begins to worry about losing her job; her best friend Deidre seems to be embroiled in a dangerous liason with a photographer; and Jack, an old friend from college and Deidre’s ex-boyfriend, arrives in New York to celebrate his 40th birthday with Lisa, Sam and Deidre. Doubts, betrayal, unspoken desire, and secrets come together to ignite the unthinkable, leaving everything changed.

“Do you know the most boring thing in the world to photograph?” Ben asks as he looks over my shoulder.

I shake my head.


“What is the most interesting?”

“Duplicity,” he says. “To catch someone in the lie and lay it bare. To expose the difference between who people present themselves as and who they really are. That’s the moment you wait for. The tricky thing is that you don’t always know if you’ve captured it until you see the film.”

“Everyone has a face they present to the world. That doesn’t make them a liar.”

“Maybe not,”  Ben replies. “But it is a very thin line.” – from Best Intentions, page 199 –

Emily Listfield’s novel Best Intentions is classified as a mystery – and indeed, there is a murder and several suspects – but, at its core, the book is about relationships and how those relationships may be altered by misconception and half-truths. It is also about the secrets people keep from each other, the desires they hide, and the lies they tell – especially to those closest to them.

Suspicion crackles and pulls, nags and infiltrates, it coils around your brain, distorting your perceptions, it is the smoke you see everything through that refuses to lift. But a lie, hard and indisputable, freezes in your lungs, its ice spreading through your pores, chilling every synapse; a lie once discovered paralyzes you. – from Best Intentions, page 73 –

Listfield builds her story slowly. Narrated in the first person from Lisa’s point of view, the reader gains a deep understanding of Lisa’s fears and insecurities. This limited viewpoint works to build suspense as Lisa begins to doubt not only her marriage and relationship with her best friend, but also when she begins to uncover dark facts about her co-workers and clients.

Readers who are looking for pure mystery will be disappointed in Listfield’s book – not because it is not well written (it is), and not for lack of suspects (there are plenty)…but because the pace is slower than most mysteries. It is not until the last third of the book that the murder takes place and must be solved. Up until that point, the book reads more like women’s fiction or literary fiction with the focus on building the characters and their relationships to each other.

I like character driven novels and I was not put off by having to wait for the mystery to develop. I liked Listfield’s prose – direct, unswerving, and focused – and so I found this a hard book to lay down. I was pulled into Lisa’s life living in Manhattan, rubbing elbows with shallow and wealthy people…her tender relationship with her daughters, her self-doubt and desire for a simpler existence. I cared about her.

I recommend this book for readers who, like me, want more than a mystery. I am looking forward to reading more of Listfield’s work.


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  1. Another exact match for our ratings! I loved the observations in this book, but thought the mystery wasn’t really necessary. This book would have worked just as well (better?) without the death.

    • Wendy on August 10, 2009 at 07:12

    Jackie: *laughing* I love when we see eye to eye on books! I am actually glad this was deeper than your typical mystery 🙂

    • Shonda on August 10, 2009 at 14:20


    I liked this one too. After I finished reading, I still had my doubts about her husband. I just didn’t think he was completely honest with her (even after he came clean).

    Like you, I want to read more from this author. Nice review!

    • Wendy on August 11, 2009 at 06:33

    Shonda: I know what you mean…I wasn’t crazy about her husband ever. His little lies just seemed to be too conveniently covered up. I have another book in my stacks by this author…I’m looking forward to reading it.

  2. This sounds so good! Love the lines you posted…

  3. I really enjoyed this book as well. Nice review!

  4. I read and reviewed this earlier in the year and had the same basic reaction as you — it was more of a character-driven novel than a murder mystery. In fact, I asked her in my interview with her if she ever considered just skipping the murder altogether! I don’t think the book would have suffered at all. Great review.

    • Wendy on August 15, 2009 at 13:17

    Sheila: Listfield’s writing is easy to read!

    Swapna: Thanks – glad you also enjoyed it 🙂

    Jenners: I wrote my review before I went around looking at what other people thought – I was surprised how many of us had the same reaction re: the murder mystery. I’ll have to go find your interview…I am curious now as to how she answered your question!

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