The 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.