The latest from Stephen White, The Last Lie, finds Alan Gregory in an even more contemplative mood than usual, which is contemplative indeed. What has him ruminating? It seems that his new neighbor, a celebrity lawyer some call “the protector of women’s rights,” has been implicated in a roofie-fueled acquaintance rape. So much for the “protector’s” reputation… except that Gregory hasn’t heard a peep from the media.
Gregory knows all about it, though. He learned everything in a roundabout manner: he’s supervising a rookie therapist who’d already been counseling the victim on an unrelated matter. Without that therapist-once-removed relationship, Gregory would have zero knowledge of what happened right next door; once the lawyer-wizards got involved, a cone of silence descended. Neither his ADA wife nor his cop best friend has much to tell, though best bud Sam Purdy does treat him to a long, allegorical harangue on the strikingly similar 2004 Kobe Bryant case.
The longer the silence, the more disturbing the case becomes for Gregory, especially when he learns that someone is covertly threatening to expose the victim’s “dirty little secrets” – secrets that could ruin more than one life. The cops’ hands are tied, the DA’s hands are tied, and the alleged rapist’s reputation remains lily-white. So why does Gregory sense impending doom?
After 2009’s heart-pounding standalone thriller, The Siege, White’s return to the slow-moving Gregory series seems somehow anticlimactic. Such stylistic change is predictable: Gregory is a cerebral type, after all, more likely to engage in strenuous self-examination than punch someone in the snoot. That doesn’t mean that he’ll just curl into a ball and hide in the face of danger, however, as fans of the series are well aware. The quiet psychologist is as ready to protect his family – both two- and four-legged members – as any self-styled “man of action.” In The Last Lie, Gregory proves once more that he can rise to the occasion.
No Stephen White novel is complete without an overarching theme, and for The Last Lie that theme might be embodied in the (in)famous line from Shakespeare’s Henry VI, “first… let’s kill all the lawyers.” Sam’s soliloquy on the Bryant case (which took place a few hundred miles from Boulder, in western Colorado) is a searing indictment of the legal profession’s ability to place a fat thumb on the scales of justice. The allegations against Mattin Snow, Gregory’s neighbor, seem destined to evaporate like those against Bryant; and that does not sit well with Gregory – or with Sam Purdy. As the only person with all the information, Alan Gregory is not inclined to let this one disappear.
Like other novels in the Gregory series, The Last Lie moves along at a leisurely pace while the protagonist mulls his options and mentally critiques his every move – slowly, that is, until White kicks the pace into overdrive. If you like that kind of pacing, this one’s right up your alley – and I happen to like this sort of pacing.