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Tell me another one

Published April 2, 2006


By Lisa Unger

Shaye Areheart Books, $23, 374 pp


When Ridley Jones steps out of the front door of her East Village apartment building, notices a toddler walking into the path of a van and, on the spur of the moment, dives across the street and rescues the boy, a newspaper photographer having a lucky day captures the moment with his camera.

Ridley, a freelance journalist, isn't surprised to find herself having 15 minutes of fame, recognized on the street by beaming strangers.

But one person recognizes her in a way she never expected. Ridley, who grew up the beloved, privileged child of a doctor and his wife, gets an envelope in the mail with a clipping of the rescue photo, plus a yellowed old Polaroid of a man, a woman who looks exactly like Ridley and a little girl. The two pictures are accompanied by a note: "Are you my daughter?"

It's a question that will turn her life upside down. Also rocking her world is Jake, the mysterious but very hot sculptor who just moved into her building. His knock on her door not long after the photos arrive seems at first to be a coincidence, but Jake has a sinister secret that Ridley soon finds out she shares.

Beautiful Lies, the tale of Ridley's harrowing efforts to discover her true identity, is the latest book from Clearwater writer Lisa Unger. Writing as Lisa Miscione, she has published four thrillers in the Lydia Strong series.

This stand-alone novel has a high-velocity plot that pulls the reader along on Ridley's dangerous quest, and Unger skillfully keeps her, and us, guessing about whom to trust. Ridley's devoted father, her emotionally icy mother, her puppyish ex-boyfriend, her estranged junkie brother, her long-dead but still-adored Uncle Max - none of them is exactly who they seem.

Ridley is a smart, engaging narrator, charming but not cloying, courageous but not foolish about it (mostly). Her instantaneous bond with Jake, fueled by trauma and lust, turns into love that may be the real thing - if Jake is.

Unger also paints a convincing, affectionate portrait of New York City, and not just its sophisticated, Woody Allen movie-set neighborhoods. You can almost smell the aroma drifting up into her tiny apartment from the pizza joint downstairs.

A complex and gripping story about the dark side of the best of intentions, Beautiful Lies is a satisfying thriller. And, judging by a few untied loose ends, Ridley may return.

- Colette Bancroft is a Times staff writer.


Lisa Unger will sign Beautiful Lies at 7 p.m. April 19 at Barnes and Noble, 23654 U.S. 19 N, Clearwater; and at 7 p.m. April 20 at Inkwood Books, 216 S Armenia Ave., Tampa.

[Last modified April 2, 2006, 07:06:08]

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