“A story is a house, a home for something that happened. The truth lives there forever, along with its cousins, the half-truths, and also with everyone’s servants—the lies. And no house has only one door. There’s always another way in.” Dee Aldrich, protagonist of Monday’s Lie, the new thriller by Jamie Mason, is a woman who could tell a story or two—but probably won’t.
Dee leads a seemingly ordinary life, one she has carefully curated for herself, but she’s hiding the truth about her childhood. The greatest appeal of each adult decision she has made—the man she married, where they live, what she does for a living—is its ability to camouflage her unconventional upbringing. But in many ways she remains her late mother’s daughter.
Annette Vess wasn’t like other mothers, though the specifics of her work as an undercover agent weren’t clear to anyone outside her immediate professional circle, including her children. On the surface, their lives were unremarkable—comfortable and sleekly suburban. Who would guess that the charming and attractive Mrs. Vess had lost her finger in a South American prison? Yet perhaps there was something a little odd about the woman: “She baked cookies the other PTA mothers were reluctant to eat without being able to say exactly why.”
When she was a child, Annette played an impromptu game with Dee and her brother, Simon—a game based on observation, deduction, and peripheral awareness. At the grocery store, Annette would suddenly announce, “Heads up! We’re playing. Five points: What was the man two places behind us in line wearing?” The prize for winning might be childish—an ice-cream sundae, perhaps, or trip to the zoo—but the games taught survival skills for life.
Recruited at a young age by the shadowy “Uncle” Paul Rowland, Annette’s work mostly kept her close to home, but one very notable exception, when Dee was thirteen, was the defining point of Dee’s childhood and the catalyst for most of her adult dysfunction. That’s when Annette, with only a brief goodbye and no explanation, disappeared for seven months following an apparently violent skirmish in the family living area. This cataclysmic disruption haunts Dee into adulthood.
As the contemporary events of the novel unfold, Dee, armed with an address and a paintball gun, is headed to a mysterious destination with only a vague sense of what she might find there. All she knows is that it has something to do with the way her life has suddenly, and rather spectacularly, begun to derail. Though her mother died of cancer three years earlier, Dee has only just received an inheritance that she didn’t know existed. Her husband’s behavior has become unbearably erratic, and the windfall has hurt more than helped their already strained marriage. In short, Dee’s life is a mess, and her lifelong determination to keep a low profile is at least partly to blame.
Monday’s Lie is an elegant and compact literary thriller. Mason’s use of language is cunning and expressive, and her heroine’s interior drama is as intriguing as the plot itself. Dee’s is a complex point-of-view: she is keenly self-aware, whip smart, and intent on using her considerable sensory prowess—the legacy of her mother’s games—to orchestrate the weird, unpleasant, and suspect out of her life altogether. But it’s Annette—or Dee’s memories of her—who steals the show: “She was the reincarnation of Errol Flynn, which meant that she would’ve had to steal his soul well before his death,” Mason writes, “but that would have been just like her.”
Kathryn Justice Leache is a freelance writer who lives with her family in her hometown of Memphis. Her life among books has included work as a librarian and stints as a bookseller at Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, and The Booksellers at Laurelwood in Memphis.