The First to Lie

Image of The First to Lie
Release Date: 
August 4, 2020
Forge Books
Reviewed by: 

This thriller should raise more than goosebumps—it’s a raceway of red flags signaling the possible connections of corrupt officials and money-hungry drug developers.”

The warning is right up front in this wild-ride thriller from TV investigative journalist Hank Phillippi Ryan: “If you could start your adult life over as someone else, would you do it? . . . To get what you always wanted? Sure, you would. All you have to do is lie.”

And it’s obvious that Nora Quinn at the start of The First to Lie is faking a lot of things. Out on a carefully choreographed date—her own choreography—with a doctor whose clinic promises fertility miracles, she’s tracking possible misuse of a dangerous pharmaceutical. Then there’s a quick switch of narrator, to Ellie Berensen, whose new neighbor in her apartment building seems way too pushy and invasive. If Ellie’s hiding something, too, new neighbor Meg Weest seems determined to find it. Maybe Meg is even getting into Ellie’s place when she’s not home. Who’s lying the most, and what are the stakes?

Ryan’s tight-twist plot careens forward, ramping up suspense every couple of pages and putting everyone in danger. When it looks like Meg intends to steal Ellie’s news job as well, the tension grows almost unbearable.

And at that pont, Ryan introduces yet another woman with something at stake: Lacey Vanderwald, marrying into Big Pharma. And her new about-to-be sister-in-law Brooke, victim of the magic drugs her family is marketing. Just how intentionally evil can one profit-motivated family become?

For a while, this thriller switches characters in flashes like a Shakespearean drama, storms and treachery rattling off stage. Then, as the dangers move to center action, the characters spin: All of these women are performing, with deep compelling motives, and none of them is who she pretends to be. “The first to lie”? It’s hard to tell who hasn’t been lying. The motives are life, death, and major money. Never mind love. By a third of the way into Ryan’s pulse-pounding crime novel, even terror steps forward:

“Ellie stared at the coffee table, at the coffee cup, at the yellow pad and the pencils. What a reporter would use. What she would use. Did use, in fact. The cup, one from the kitchen supplies that came with her apartment, she drank from every morning. . . . She felt her fingers tingle, and a clench in her chest as if a vise were closing around her lungs. ‘Offi—Officer? I didn’t put that stuff tereh. I didn’t.’

A siren screamed by outside, the sound fading as it passed.

‘You didn’t?’ Adomako narrowed his eyes at her. ‘Then who did?’”

To anyone watching the scandals of Big Pharma over the past few years, every twist feels like it could have been reported in last week’s news. And in a world now dependent on pharmaceutical companies to develop, spread, and administer a vaccine against the pandemic disease COVID-19, this thriller should raise more than goosebumps—it’s a raceway of red flags signaling the possible connections of corrupt officials and money-hungry drug developers.

Ryan provides an extra tang of satisfaction as all the most potent characters in The First to Lie are tough, savvy, scientifically sharp women with skills that could slide effectively into the original James Bond series. Watch for the money. And then keep a close eye on who’s lying to whom. Because it’s all performance, and it’s all deadly serious.