The Lies We Tell is the second Madison Attallee book by Niki MacKay. Niki has rapidly become one of my favourite crime thriller authors across her three novels so far due not only to great stories and some really clever twists but some brilliant pacing and the use of multiple character vantage points to create a world that doesn’t just lay flat on the pages, it springs into life in your head and, lucky for us, we are getting to access for a while.
An anonymous narrator begins our story before we fully meet our three amazing female protagonists. They share with us a scene that ends with a drug induced death at a rave. Ruby is found in Ben’s arms having overdosed on something. This is the tragic scene that launches us into meeting Miriam Jackson, Ruby Williams and of course letting us say hello to Madison Attallee again.
Miriam Jackson is the wife of famous Hollywood director Nick Jackson, he spends a great deal of time away from his family in LA working. Miriam is a successful local radio personality and relatively well known in the area. Miriam is also lonely. With her 16 year old daughter Tabitha at best friend Delia’s for the night, Miriam’s got plans. After bumping into teenage ex-boyfriend Ben she has agreed to go to his after work and although she questions herself the whole way there and even right up until she gets out of the car, ultimately she goes through with spending the night with Ben.
The next morning, in the cold hard light of day, Miriam can see that this was not her best move and goes home to wait for Tabitha to get home, except Tabitha never does come home. Worried she calls the police who tell her that she’s 16 and hasn’t been missing long enough yet – but luckily it’s DI Peter Branning who attends the Jackson home and points Miriam in the direction of Madison Attallee.
We find Madison in a really good place. No longer are her visits with Molly supervised and she has her to stay on weekends, she even attends a school play that Molly is part of. She’s even managed to form a relationship with DI Peter Branning. Though MA Investigations is still riding pretty high after the success of her last big case, Madison is glad to take on the work. Promising Miriam that she will be as discreet as she can but obviously, ultimately she will aim to bring home Tabitha. Madison begins her investigation thinking this is simply a teenager whose done a bunk for a few days and she just needs to find out where she is, but rapidly she finds herself in the middle of a dark web paedophile ring, and at that all roads seem to lead back to Miriam’s ex Ben.
Ruby Jackson’s story begins in 1994 and begins with her happily at home, clearly into her music and with a voice to match she has dreams of being a singer. Her mum’s partner Eric is decent to her but, Ben – Eric’s son, has been banned from the house and she’s been told not to see him. Ruby can’t quite understand why, to her her Ben is this slightly older gorgeous bloke who might be able to get her time performing at some of the raves he goes to. But it is through Ruby that we discover the true motive’s of Ben, who finds Ruby work to help “pay her way” after all, hasn’t he “helped her out”. Ruby, now isolated from home is plied with drugs and booze and at 15 years old begins being sold for sex to those who have a “younger taste”.
Niki MacKay weaves the story of the missing Tabitha Jackson between the recollections that Miriam has of her time with Ben as a teenager and what transpired after the death of Ruby Williams, and with Ruby’s tragic tale expertly. I became entwined wholly in the world and the investigation that I felt the urgency in my heart, and a pit in my stomach as it continued and the depths and reach of the dark web’s ring only seemed to get deeper.
One of my favourite parts of reading a Niki MacKay book is her characters. Niki has a skill at creating three dimensional characters who feel real and are not awkwardly contrived or placed for the sake of the plot. Her female characters particularly stand out to me for the simple reason that they are flawed – as we all are. Madison is a recovering alcoholic, Miriam is struggling with her past and her relationship with her parents and Ruby is isolated, alone and completely abused.
This story gets really dark, and unsurprisingly in a chat I had with Niki about this book, she told me it has been her hardest one to write because of the content. She bravely and respectfully tackles subjects like grooming, sex trafficking and underage girls being forced to work against their will for drugs and food. MacKay demonstrates her skill as a writer in this novel particularly and of her three novels so far, this is my favourite.
Thanks to Niki for talking with me about your book and writing process, as well as being supremely kind.