Love Lies Beneath – Ellen Hopkins
Tara is an affluent, savvy businesswoman living in a luxurious home in the expanse of San Francisco. While dealing with her sister’s troubled family and marriage, Tara reflects on her own weary past and severed relationship with her mother. After two divorces and a widowing, she is assured that she’ll never know what it means to have true love. That is, until a chance accident while skiing in the Nevada hills brings her into the arms of Dr. Cavin Lattimore, a hunky orthopedic surgeon with no shortage of charm, wit, and good looks to match her own. Their romance takes flame quickly, while he helps Tara nurse a severely wounded ACL. Though, she can’t help but start to doubt his intentions when his angst-filled son, Eli, keeps summoning up some questionable secrets. As Tara begins to receive threatening messages, she realizes she may have a dangerous stalker in her midst, and when Cavin can’t assuage her suspicions, she wonders if her budding fourth marriage is as true as it once felt.
Ellen Hopkins is an undisputed queen of familial trauma and darkness. If anyone else devoured her YA books as a youth, then you know, as I do, that she is a master of crafting tension, secrets, and consequences of her characters’ decisions. I’ve gotten my hands on a few of her adult-oriented novels, including Collateral and Triangles, and I’ve anticipated this new addition since it was released, pre-ordered with a signed book-plate, and promptly stored on my shelf in 2015. Procrastination, am I right?
Love Lies Beneath drew me in with its promise of romantic suspense. After a literary era that spawned the likes of The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and The Child, the thriller genre has become my main squeeze. Hopkins delivers to us a novel bound up in passionate sex scenes, masterful manipulators, and the deep-seated lies of self-preservation that so often accompany wealthy characters. The book is ripe with entertaining, strong character voices, such as Tara’s sister, Melody, her three nieces, including the strong-willed, problematic Kayla, and her distant, bitter husband Graham, as well as Cavin’s conniving, creepy son Eli. Tara’s family life and deeply dark back-story are gracefully intertwined into her present, clearly and thoughtfully explaining her motives and development throughout her forty years. Tara, despite proving to somewhat unrelatable with all her riches and snobby tendencies, is fully thought-out and intentional protagonist, revealing once again that Hopkins is a pro at creating characters. Tara is quick to abandon her backstory, and understandably so, but I could easily read a prequel that delves even deeper into the dark times she spent with a mentally ill mother and her revolving door of abusive boyfriends, as well as her count of three loveless marriages that she endured.
Where Love Lies Beneath falls short is in its plot. Tara, despite her incredible stock of professional and personal acumen, allows herself to be swept up into Cavin’s arms. Frequently, she comes across his secrets of loves past, his enraged reactions to his son, and lies of omission that he is quick to brush aside. A reader might think that since Tara is clearly a powerful woman who, in all other areas, takes no bull from anyone and often takes solace in vengeful acts, would immediately dismiss any man who dares to lie to her. However, this is far from the case. When Tara finds out that he has been doing background checks on her from way too early on in their relationship, and that he has an up-to-date file stored away detailing her life history, she is furious, and rightly so. Literally half a page later, he professes his love to her down on one knee, and she, almost absent-mindedly, accepts. “‘Yes.’ The word swims out of some thick, boozy sea, only to become mired in doubt.” What a romantic proposal! No, you don’t think so? Yeah, me either.
After almost 300 pages of the entirety of the book, I almost thought we would be left with no climax. Only in the final chapter, do a few huge revelations come through, only to leave us with a rushed and underwhelming resolution. Tara’s stalker is brushed aside as an ex-husband, predictably who we thought it would be all along, and Cavin’s secrecy and lies are actually only a long-seated gambling problem. These reveals just didn’t feel worth the concern or suspense that they were built up with throughout the book. While the rest of the novel is in the present-tense, these ends are tied up during their honeymoon in past-tense. The hindsight perspective almost feels like a cheat, showing us that the answers we’ve all been waiting for have been explained and accepted by Tara quickly, instead of any riveting action that usually cements the end of a thriller. We also rapidly learn a conveniently hidden secret about Tara: she is the murdering culprit responsible for her first husbands death, and she is not afraid to break out the old tactics if Cavin proves disloyal ever again.
Hopkins has provided us a solid set-up, but fails to deliver us the “Wow!” of a second half. The description of the book prepares us for a complex family drama, but offers up a somewhat superficial execution. While she crafts an admirable romance and thorough character development, the pace just doesn’t always match the promise. Keeping in mind that there is a sequel in the works, I am hopeful that Tara’s continued journey will be as dark and twisted as it felt like it was supposed to be the first time around.