FULL MEDIA REVIEWS
From Publishers Weekly:
In this engrossing novel of suspense, Emily Page, pregnant with her first child, and her husband, Mike, leave New York City for Clairmont, Tex., a wealthy community where Mike has secured a job as the new police chief. After receiving newspaper clippings detailing the murder of the man who raped her in college, Emily is convinced that someone from her past is stalking her. And when it becomes clear that the person stalking her has broken into her new house, Mike sees to it that Emily is protected by a home security system and bodyguard. While dealing with her personal demons, Emily learns that one of the town's socialites, Caroline Warwick, is missing, and Emily was one of the last people to see her alive. Heaberlin (Playing Dead), a former journalist, expertly spins out a tale of lies and deceit that will keep the reader guessing.
Emily Page and her husband, Michael, have left New York City for Clairmont, Texas, where Michael will be the new chief of police. But Emily's dream of a small-town life with a fresh new start is shattered when she attempts to settle in among a group of wealthy southern women with time on their hands and mischief and mayhem on their minds. When the group's leader, Caroline Warwick, suddenly disappears, the group's web of secrets begins to unravel. Emily's growing involvement in the search for the missing woman brings up memories from her own troubled past, prompting Emily to wonder whether her troubles have followed her to Clairmont and whether they could possibly play a role in Caroline's disappearance. Heaberlin's depiction of one tight-knit Texas community is both culturally savvy and politically astute. Her group of rich white women desperate to climb the social ladder is funny as well as sad when shown alongside the racism that engulfs the town's Hispanic population. A carefully wrapped package of Texas soap opera, social and political expose, and well-paced thriller.
From Crime Readers' Association, reviewed by British poet/author Kate Rhodes:
Lie Still is a potent blast of twenty first century Southern Gothic. Julia Heaberlin brings a poet's craft and conviction to her storytelling, and the characters which populate her fictional Texan town of Clairmont pulse with believable emotions and jealousies.
When pregnant Emily Page and her husband Mike leave New York City, so Mike can take up his job as sheriff, they are looking forwards to building a new life together. But it soon becomes clear that Emily's past is catching up with her. The victim of a brutal date rape when she was at college, Emily has struggled to rebuild her fragile confidence. Secrets are reaching boiling pointing under the brittle surface of her new Texan community. The well-bred ladies of the town compete to join Caroline Warwick's club, but her vetting procedures and initiation ceremonies include the worst kinds of bullying. Instead of supporting each other, the women check out the success or failure of their acquaintances' latest plastic surgery and the depth of their spray tans. Many of the women Emily meets are at cracking point, desperate to join Caroline's clique and climb the social ladder. But when Caroline goes missing it emerges that she was a victim, as well as a bully. The anonymous phone calls and letters which Emily has received since she was raped reach a new level of intimidation, and she and her husband realise that her life is in danger. As Emily gets to know members of the Texan elite and tries to find out what has happened to Caroline, she sees that the events of her past are linked to Caroline's fate. The story builds to an exciting crescendo as Emily traces Caroline's roots back to a much less salubrious neighbourhood in Kentucky, and comes face to face with the nightmares which have haunted her for years.
Julia Heaberlin excels at depicting the characters and dialects of the Texan community where she grew up. She offers a wry spin on the culture depicted in the legendary soap opera, Dallas, through the eyes of a well-drawn New York outsider. One of the most compelling aspects of this novel is the social realism which lies just below the glitzy surface. The book takes an unflinching look at sexual politics, and at a culture where an undergraduate who has just been date raped is told to go home and forget about it, because it can't be proved. Heaberlin is also deft in showing us the vestiges of racism which exist in Clairmont, where Hispanic immigrants are rarely able to find well-paid employment or be welcomed as equals by their white neighbours.
Lie Still provides a pacey and convincing storyline, and the feisty character of Emily Page is appealing in her unwillingness to allow herself to become a victim. But one of the great pleasures of this novel is the style and glitter of Heaberlin's writing style. She has captured the raw and dangerous Texan sunshine and sprinkled it liberally across the pages of her highly accomplished second thriller.
From The Dallas Morning News, reviewed by staff writer Joy Tipping:
Every successful author faces it: the sophomore curse. You've had a hit with your first book, and now the publisher demands a second one, stat, to ride on the waves of critical goodwill.
In North Texas-raised Julia Heaberlin's case, I expected (and wished for) a second novel starring Tommie McCloud, the spitfire protagonist of 2012's Playing Dead. But Lie Still has a new heroine and story, although like Playing Dead it boasts a Texas setting, in this case Clairmont, a thinly disguised fictional version of Plano or perhaps Frisco.
The author describes it as a "high-heeled Southern town," per capita the wealthiest, most highly taxed city of its size in the country, home to CEOs and Dallas Cowboy football players and Texas land barons and nouveau riche wannabes who carried mountains of mortgage and credit card debt." Yep, she knows us. (Heaberlin, a former journalist, did stints at both The Dallas Morning News and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)
Lie Still is a whip-smart thriller, with a heroine just as endearing as Tommie McCloud, if not quite as funny. This is definitely a more serious book, as befits its themes of trauma, loss and self re-creation. Emily's early-adult defining moments were horrific: date rape while a college student, and her parents' death in a car crash soon after.
When her husband is offered a high-profile law enforcement job in Texas, they move from New York. They come bearing stereotypical ideas of Texas, some borne out by the flashy opulence of Clairmont's real estate. But at a women's get-together soon after their arrival, Emily is startled when one of the women mentions an OB-GYN who "cleans up our mistakes." Then, "I caught a glimpse of a Steinbeck novel propped up on the Jack Daniel's. I was busily reworking my preconceived views of Texas. Abortions. Wink. Classic literature, but of course."
This, and other passages, reaffirm that Heaberlin's sense of humor is firmly intact. She nails the annoyed reaction from the mother of an overprivileged child to his homework assignment: "Alan Jr. just told me he needs to have a potato carved into a Russian dictator by tomorrow morning. I pay $15,000 a year to a private school and my reward is that I'll be up at midnight cutting out felt clothes for a freaking potato."
When one of the women's group members—a social butterfly who delights in knowing everyone else's secrets—goes missing, things quickly turn sinister. Emily has her own skeletons she desperately wants to keep hidden, which may include murder, and a mail stalker who knows way too much.
Lie Still seems particularly timely in this time of NSA eavesdropping and Google searches that may end up in the hands of your friendly neighborhood police force. How quickly the thin veil of privacy is ripped asunder: "All of us walk around with ridiculous amounts of intimate information about strangers and acquaintances. We'd never get out of bed if we realized how much peripheral people in our lives know about us. What even the people we love most say behind our backs. The number of confidences broken."
From The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, reviewed by David Martindale:
Julia Heaberlin didn't plan to write a book about date rape.
But when the Fort Worth-area novelist sat down to work on "Lie Still" and the first sentence from the female protagonist was a recollection of being attacked in college, Heaberlin decided to see it through.
The thriller genre in which Heaberlin works, after all, is an ideal forum in which to discuss societal issues "without making your readers zone out," she says.
So "Lie Still" mixes serious discussion about "the last frontier in crime" with a twisty-turny mystery plot and a cast of eccentric characters that considerably lighten the reading experience.
"This kind of book, which is somewhere between literary and popular mystery, is a good way to appeal to people on issues like this," Heaberlin says.
"Lie Still" is also a broad satire of a culture of money and privilege. The ladies of the fictional North Texas town of Clairmont (a thinly veiled version of affluent Southlake) are textbook examples of excess.
It is in this community that protagonist Emily Page, a new resident, one who's simultaneously amused and appalled by her rich neighbors, investigates the disappearance of the group's queen bee, while also dealing with a stalker from her own past.
We chatted recently with Heaberlin, a former Fort Worth Star-Telegram editor, about "Lie Still."
Q. Are you prepared for what likely will result from this book? Readers who share Emily's experience—people who were attacked, people who were stalked, people who live in fear—are likely to share their stories with you. You'll get a lot of people unburdening their souls.
A. I don't know, frankly. I read the first chapter of "Lie Still" to a book club for the first time about two months ago. I was there primarily speaking about my first book ("Playing Dead"), but I thought I would try it out. And there was silence after I read it. Then the reaction was positive.
One woman said that her daughter had been raped and had tried to commit suicide and she had never told anyone that until she told this group that night. So I was a little surprised at that reaction. But I'm getting prepared.
Q. How common a crime is this, especially on college campuses, where Emily was attacked?
A. College campuses are a laboratory for this crime. I have a son going off to college, and I went to an orientation on crime prevention, and we were told stories about girls and attacks and how the main problem is that they don't have a game plan, that they're putting themselves in dangerous situations. If I had a daughter today, I would never send her to college without her having some sort of self-defense course.
There are women all around us—in the workplace, in the park, ahead of us in line at the grocery store—who have experienced sexual attacks that have left lifelong emotional marks.
Q. When you spend almost a year writing a story like this, going back to this dark place every day, even if it exists only in your imagination, is it hard to keep it from getting you down and creeping you out? Do you become paranoid once you discover how easy it is to be a victim?
A. I try to separate my writing from real life. And if I'm getting down while writing the book, I try to lighten it up a little. Which is why I put a little humor into "Lie Still," particularly with a character I created named Letty. One day, I was particularly down about something. I'm not sure it was about the particular topic of rape. But she just sort of came to life and cheered me up.
Q. Speaking of which, was there a specific incident involving Texas women that inspired these crazy ladies of Clairmont?
A. I definitely used the lifestyles of Colleyville, Southlake and Westlake for "Lie Still." I thought it would be interesting to layer a thriller on top of the modern trappings of all this bedazzling wealth: kids driving Hummers and SUVs, flat-screen TVs in multiple rooms, families that regularly vacation in Italy and Hawaii, women who carry $1,800 purses the size of a horse's head.
But that said, it's fiction. These crazy women don't exist. For instance, I don't know a slightly racist ex-fashion queen on a hot dog-and-banana diet who carries an assault rifle in the trunk of her car.
Q. Well, none that you know of anyway. In the meantime, readers from around here are liable to play guessing games, telling you, "I know who this character is based on."
A. I'm a little worried about that, because my friends often see themselves in my characters. I'll say, "I never knew that about you!" And I've had some early reviewers say that they find the eccentric characters of "Lie Still "to be pretty believable. I want to ask them, "Who the heck are you hanging out with?"
From Reading, Writing, And Riesling:
This was an exciting, fast paced read that kept me guessing until the final reveal. Heaberlin creates a strong, empathetic female protagonist and a cast of rich and entertaining minor female roles—the women of "The Club". Secrets, allegiances, trust, are all themes that lace and entwine throughout this book, some secrets are so huge that carrying them around is a death sentence.
I love that Heaberlin uses this book as a positive vehicle to discuss rape and in particular the date rape—a crime about power that involves so much guilt and stigma that many victims do not even report or discuss with anyone. Date rape IS a crime. We need more books, more discussions, more opportunities to support such victims and this book creates a voice that is accessible and will be heard because this is not a book of ranting and ravings and man hating rhetoric—this is a mystery/crime novel that tells a personal story of courage. This story stunned me by starting with these sentences "For me, the rape is a permanent fixture on the clock, like midnight. A point of reference. I was nineteen and four days old." (p. 13) What a bold and powerful and honest way to start this crime novel. A simple statement that had me hooked, it had me intrigued from the first words, in crime novels women are often the victims of crime but they are not often the protagonist because of the crime—we do not often get an opportunity to feel their emotional and psychological pain (yes, we often get vivid pictures of physical pain and injuries and deaths in crime novels), but we don't often see victims on their long journey to restoration, this is a great way of turning the dynamic upside down, giving power back to Emily. An ultimately this is what Emily succeeds in doing—she stands up for herself. She is powerful. (There are no spoilers here.)
The reader is engaged in a very cinematic view of the town, the inhabitants, and the characters. The prologue is beautifully descriptive and chillingly eerie. I can see the mountain, I can see forest floor. The image of the dirty, discoloured and scratched plastic child's ring is ominous. It is an omen of decay and death; very visual, very engaging. The realm of secrets, trusts, conspiracies and blackmail are pared open for all to see. The dynamics of relationships are laid bared. This is a very well constructed mystery/thriller; with engaging characters, a taught narrative combined with elements of humour that make this a most satisfying and thought-provoking read. I look forward to reading Heaberlin's earlier book Playing Dead.