After co-authoring five installments of the Dr. Peter Zak mystery series, and instructing creative-writing students via her book Writing And Selling Your Mystery Novel, Hallie Ephron finally flies solo with Never Tell A Lie, a "novel of suspense" that applies her reader-grabbing techniques to a strong, spooky premise. The book opens with Massachusetts suburbanite Ivy Rose hosting a yard sale to clear some old junk out of the Victorian house she and her husband David recently bought. Out of the blue, Melinda, a woman they both knew in high school (and didn't much like) shows up and claims she used to play in their house as a girl, and would like to see the inside again. David takes her in, but no one sees her come back out. When Melinda's bloody clothes turn up among the remnants of the yard sale, the police take the Roses in for questioning, and Ivy discovers that David hasn't been entirely truthful with her about his past relationship with their old acquaintance.

Never Tell A Lie starts out as the best kind of mystery: one in which the protagonist winds up investigating herself, and her suppositions about the life she's led up to now. Later, once all the questions are answered and the final face-off between hero and villain kicks in, the book becomes rote, even silly. But Ephron works two interesting wrinkles into her story—one used well, and one poorly. The first involves Ivy, who's eight months pregnant, and dealing with some higher-than-usual expectant-mother anxiety, due to multiple miscarriages. Her condition cleverly affects the action, since it's hard for her to engage in chases and fistfights when she's having contractions.


Ephron's second, underexplored wrinkle has to do with David's duplicity. Ephron deals reasonably well with Ivy's reaction to uncovering David's lies, and even tentatively approaches the idea that Ivy was more complicit than she realized in any misdeeds David may have committed when they were teens. But missing from the story is more about David, a privileged kid who took a bohemian turn, perhaps in reaction to the kind of person he used to be. A novel like Never Tell A Lie is never really about putting characters through their paces, it's about what we learn about them along the way. A mystery-writing expert should know that.