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Secrets and Lies

J.T. Ellison channels Agatha Christie in the suspense-filled Her Dark Lies

There probably will not be a more intriguing line of text in a crime thriller this year than the one protagonist Claire Hunter delivers in J.T. Ellison’s latest suspense thriller, Her Dark Lies: “I never said I was a good person.”

A Nashville artist on the way to becoming the latest wife of eccentric entrepreneur Jack Compton, Claire is eager, almost desperate, to start a new life after a dark past. “With Jack by my side, I feel in control again, strong, capable,” Claire says. “I’m not that destabilized little girl who blamed herself for everyone’s bad moods and sharp words. … His love healed me, smoothed all my broken edges.”

Even when she is told she must sign a prenuptial agreement and exclusively take the Compton name as her own, Claire is all too willing.

“This is a family everyone wants a piece of. Internationally known, wealthy, targeted, and as such, understandably private,” she muses. “I will erase Claire Hunter completely, morph into Claire Compton, Mrs. Jackson Compton, and forever more leave that damaged, empty part of myself behind.”

Claire slowly lets readers in on her secrets as a series of mysterious and deadly events unfolds leading up to the wedding at the Compton family’s villa on exotic Isle Isola off the Italian coast.

The novel begins with a dangerous home invasion at Claire’s house during which she ultimately shoots and kills the intruder. Desperate to avoid a public scandal that could derail the wedding, Jack and Claire maintain a story that one of Jack’s bodyguards pulled the trigger, allowing the couple to continue their travels to the Compton home.

But, as readers familiar with Ellison’s novels have come to expect, more intrigue quickly ensues. Skeletal remains of what may be Jack’s first wife, Morgan, are found years after a sailing accident, and someone mars Claire’s wedding gown by scrawling the word “Whore” on it. Someone has hacked the Compton family’s computer data — the family business develops technology to spy on the enemies of governments they work for — and is demanding a ransom. A raging storm moves in and knocks out the power to the island.

And then the bodies start piling up.

Ellison keeps readers on their toes with constantly shifting points of view in alternating chapters. Mostly told from Claire’s first-person perspective, the novel occasionally shifts to third person when following Jack or some of the supporting characters. But most surprising are the frequent first-person accounts from Jack’s first wife, Morgan, who is apparently speaking to readers from beyond the grave.

At 400-plus pages, the novel soars by in its intensity and intriguing plot and evokes the sort of experience you have come to expect from an Agatha Christie novel. The twisty revelations, building tension, and eccentric characters contribute to a fast-paced, unpredictable read. With Her Dark Lies, Ellison, already a bestselling author of more than 20 novels, cements her place alongside Christie for must-read mysteries. 

[This review originally appeared on March 3, 2021.]

Secrets and Lies

G. Robert Frazier is a former Middle Tennessee newspaper reporter and editor now working as a book reviewer and aspiring screenwriter. He has served as a script reader for screenwriting competitions at both the Austin Film Festival and the Nashville Film Festival. He lives in La Vergne.

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