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'Once Upon a Lie' is a twisted family mystery

| Saturday, Feb. 15, 2014, 5:57 p.m.

Maggie Barbieri sets a high standard in “Once Upon a Lie,” her exciting first stand-alone novel. Best known for her charmingly witting Murder 101 series, Barbieri shows an affinity for realistically delving into the dark psyches of her characters.

“Once Upon a Lie” goes beyond the typical family thriller. It is an enthralling tale about complicated bonds and what keeps families together and drives them apart while exploring just how far one will go for a loved one. Barbieri eases into “Once Upon a Lie,” setting up familiar domestic scenarios as she deftly moves her plot into unpredictable and unnerving situations.

Maeve Conlon feels nothing when her cousin, Sean Donovan, is found murdered. Maeve is too busy raising her two teenage daughters, trying to run her coffee shop-bakery and coping with her aging father, Jack, who is in the first stages of Alzheimer's and keeps disappearing from the assisted-living facility where he lives. Adding to her stress level is her ex-husband who has married her former friend.

Her cousin, Sean, was considered a leader in Farringville, N.Y., a Wall Street whiz who donated generously to town and church projects. But ever since they were children, Maeve knew her cousin as a manipulator and a bully, “every attempted show of ‘affection' tinged with cruelty and just a touch of pain.”

Maeve is pulled into the investigation when the police suspect that her father may have killed Sean. Jack, a former cop, was missing the night that his nephew was murdered and can't remember where he was.

Maeve's concern for her father leads to her to question her own moral code and leads her to commit several actions that are against her nature. Barbieri constantly keeps the reader off kilter and she fuels “Once Upon a Lie” with myriad surprise twists. Maeve is known as “the cupcake lady” in her small town, a “40-minute train ride” from New York City, but she has dark secrets. Maeve's complicated personality develops as Barbieri adds compelling layers to her intriguing story, leading to a jaw-dropping finale.

“Once Upon a Lie” is a riveting tale.

Oline H. Cogdill is a staff writer for McClatchy-Tribune News Service.

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