I hear screams, but they aren’t inspired by terror after reading White Lies. These are the piercing cries of a novel begging to be made into a Lifetime TV movie. The characters are one-dimensional--caricatures, in fact--from protagonist Katrina Burton, on her way to a new teaching position in the Cascade Mountains in eastern Washington after a personal tragedy, to the surly, drunken hitchhiker she impulsively picks up on the isolated mountain road in a snow storm. Because the young man, Zach, frightens Katrina, she makes up a lie to facilitate dumping the unwanted passenger from her vehicle long before her real destination.
Much to her chagrin, when Katrina sees Zach in town the next day (is he following her?) and later in a classroom in the school where she has begun teaching (gasp!), she is unable to extricate herself from what she said in that first encounter without losing face before Zach, who is essentially a stranger. That this twenty-something woman is so fearful of Zack Marsh’s bad opinion is only one of the weak tenets on which this flimsy structure is built. Katrina is consumed with embarrassment over her predicament, a fact that Zach takes full advantage of since she humiliated him on the mountain road. Her ridiculous fears (rape? murder?) and inability to handle herself in a mature manner lead to yet another lie and another, etc.
Katrina’s only relief from obsessing over her shame is an accidental meeting with a handsome stranger passing through town. Tall, dark, tattooed and pony-tailed, Jack Rivers sweeps our little miss off her feet and into his bed without much difficulty. Unburdening her “dark secret” to Jack, Katrina begins a slow dance with the devil that moves seamlessly from bedroom acrobatics to murder. And that’s only the beginning. Reeves is a human wrecking ball, one that has emotionally bonded with Kat and is not inclined to let her go without serious consequences.
I am struck by the naiveté of this author, disappointed by his shallow characters engaged in extreme and thoughtless behavior. If Zach Marsh is Bates’s alter ego, Jack must be his ideal of a macho male, powerful, brutal and unstoppable. But these characters are so cartoonish and the plot so feeble that reading White Lies can only be construed as a diversion. There’s simply no real meat here, though the plot could certainly be plausible in more skillful hands, or with more commitment to believable details. Too bad, because with a little more work, Bates might have had himself a contender. The structure of the novel is fine; the execution is flawed, deeply.