Thursday, February 29, 2024

First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston

Title: First Lie Wins
Author: Ashley Elston
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Publication: Penguin, audiobook, 2024
Genre: Suspense
Setting: United States
Description: Evie Porter is Ryan Sumner’s new girlfriend, and he just invited her to move in with him. They seem like the perfect couple - except that Evie is not her real name. She is a con artist sent to Lake Forbing, LA to cozy up to Ryan, although she doesn’t know why. Yet. She has worked for a mysterious Mr. Smith since high school, getting sent on specific missions with a new identity every time and a nice paycheck at the end, once she gets him what he needs. She guesses she is not his only operative but she is sure she is the best, although the last assignment did not turn out as planned and Mr. Smith was seriously displeased. So she can’t fail with Ryan, although she sometimes wishes they were a real couple despite not knowing what it is about the handsome young businessman that has drawn Mr. Smith’s interest. As always, she will try to stay a step ahead of her boss because she doesn’t trust him any more than he trusts her . . . .

My Impression: I was so mesmerized by this book I didn’t want to return it to the library! Evie Porter drew me in from the first page when I thought she was merely a new girlfriend hoping her boyfriend’s friend group would like her despite her not having gone to college or grown up with them. They ask how she and Ryan met and Evie says he helped change her flat tire, and one of the husbands jokes that Ryan probably flattened her tire just to meet her:
I smile and laugh, not too loud and not too long, to show that I, too, am amused at the thought that Ryan would go to such extremes to meet me.

Amused that any person would have watched another long enough to know that he always filled up at that truck stop for gas on Thursday evenings after spending the day at his East Texas office. That someone knew he favored the pumps on the west side of the building, and that his eyes almost always lingered a little too long on any female who crossed his path, especially those dressed in short skirts. And that same someone would pick up on little things, like the LSU baseball cap in the back seat or the frat tee showing through his white dress shirt, to ensure when they did meet there would be things to talk about. That someone would hold a nail just so in a valve while the air whistled away.

I mean, it’s amusing to believe one person would go to those lengths just to meet another.
Yes, because it is clear that Evie did plot their meeting and soon we know it was not for the first time! The story is incredibly suspenseful and it is also intricately plotted. The narrative goes back and forth from Evie’s current assignment with Ryan to some of her past scams – how she managed to make them work as well as the dangers she faced along the way. It takes a lot of skill to make the reader care about a character who is a criminal but Elston succeeds in making Evie a very sympathetic figure. Her original ventures into questionable activity were to support a mother dying of cancer; all Evie and her mother wanted was to get away from their trailer home and live in a nice house with a garden. After her mother is gone, and Evie has been sucked into one after another sleazy assignment for Mr. Smith, she realizes she can’t even take the money she has earned and buy that dream home with her ill-gotten gains because he will never let her escape from the cons – she knows too much. And Evie starts to worry about what happens when Mr. Smith thinks his operatives are too knowledgeable about his business.

I won’t say more because I don’t want to spoil it but I recommend that you get the book or audiobook if you enjoy suspense and great storytelling. After I finished, I went back to the beginning and read most of it a second time to see what I had missed. This is Elston’s first book for adults and it got a fair amount of attention because Reese Witherspoon selected it for her January book club pick. However, it had caught my eye on LibraryRead’s January list and I noticed it was published by my former colleague Pam Dorman’s imprint at Penguin. I usually like books she has edited/chosen so I put it on reserve immediately.
Source: Library/Libby. First Lie Wins is my third book for Carol’s Cloak and Dagger Challenge - and my second 5/5 rating of the year.  I should also mention the outstanding narrator greatly added to my enjoyment of the book.  Her inflections were perfect.  By an odd coincidence, my next audiobook, The Phoenix Crown, has the same narrator, 
Saskia Maarleveld. 

Happy Leap Day!


TracyK said...

I am glad you reviewed this because I would definitely not buy just on the basis of the cover. But the plot sounds perfect for me. So I will put it on a list and hope I run into it at a reasonable price sometime.

CLM said...

I thought it was extremely well done. My audiobook expired with about 20 pages left but luckily I had seen the hardcover on the Express New Books table at the library so grabbed it. I was glad I had because that made it easy to reread my favorite parts. There was one sentence I would have rephrased or changed. I am sure it will turn up at a sale although I don't know how you remember what you are looking for!

TracyK said...

I do keep a list which I modify from year to year, and I have been remembering to add books so far this year. But honestly, I often cannot find the books on the list. Either they did not get donated or someone found them before me. Who knows? But I still always find too many to buy.

thecuecard said...

This one sounds quite fun in a twisty kind of way. It seems like it would be good on audio. I will get on the list for it. Whoa there's 561 library holds for the hardback and 11 copies. It's majorly popular. Thx for your review.

CLM said...

One of the reasons this was an excellent audiobook was that it kept me from reading too fast, so the pacing and plotting weren't spoiled. And the narrator was great!

Bettina said...

This was a great recommendation! I bought it after reading your review and have devoured it tonight.very clever, twisty plot.