Everyone has their own definition of the ideal summer book, but personally, I like my hot weather picks heavy on the drama, with a side of mystery and a li'l dash of murder. Luckily, Mary Kubica's new domestic thriller checks all those boxes. We've got an excerpt from the upcoming Every Last Lie, so if you're jonesing for a spooky scary fix, read on.
Queen of the gripping contemporary suspense, Mary Kubica graced the best-seller charts with her 2015 novel The Good Girl. Now Kubica is back with her fourth book and honestly I'm very excited to neither sleep nor breathe the entire time I'm reading Every Last Lie.
When Clara Solberg's husband and four-year-old daughter, Maisie, are involved in a car accident, her world shatters. Her husband is gone. She's now a single mother to Maisie and Maisie's infant brother, Felix. And Maisie, once a bright, spirited little girl, is now plagued with night terrors. Nightmares, Clara realizes, that take Maisie back to the car accident. Nightmares that suggest maybe it wasn't an accident after all.
Desperate to discover the identity of the "bad man" haunting her daughter, Clara goes deep down the rabbit hole of who killed her husband - and why. Told in alternating perspectives - Clara's investigation, and her husband Nick's last months - Every Last Lie is bound to make you wonder just how well you really know your loved ones.
The day of Nick’s funeral, it rains, as if the sky itself is commiserating with me, crying along while I cry. The sun refuses to show its culpable face, hiding behind the safeguard of blubbery, gray rain clouds that fill the sky. In the distance, the clouds reach formidably into the sky, a Mount Saint Helens of clouds. Connor, Nick’s best friend, stands beside me, on the left, while my father is on the right, Maisie snuggled in between my father and me. As the priest commits Nick’s body to the ground, we scatter handfuls of earth on top of the casket.
Maisie holds my hand as our feet sink into mud. There are rain boots on her feet, teal rain boots with puppies on their shaft, to pair with the black A-line dress. She’s tired of asking where Nick is, and so she stands unsuspectingly as her father is lowered into the ground.
“What are we doing, Mommy?” she asks instead, wondering why all these mournful people have gathered under a canopy of black umbrellas, watching as a crate is buried in the ground, much in the same way that Harriet buries her bones in the backyard.
“This is unacceptable,” Nick’s mother says to me later as we drift away from the cemetery to our parked cars.
My father says, “You should tell her, Clarabelle,” which is his nickname for me, one I’ve grown to love, but once despised. In the distance, Maisie skips along with a younger cousin, only three years old, both oblivious to the obvious sadness that imbues the air along with the laden humidity. Outside it is hot and muggy, gnats and mosquitoes proliferating before our eyes. I push Felix in the baby carriage, plodding over the pitted lawn and around the granite headstones. Dead people. I wonder how they died.
“I’ll tell her when I’m ready,” I snap at the both of them, my father and Nick’s mother. When I am not sad, I’m mad. My father means well; Nick’s mother does not. She’s never liked me one speck, though these feelings weren’t meant to be mutual. And yet they are.
Only my father comes to my home after the funeral. The rest drift in their own direction, hugging me in these awkward, strung-out ways before saying goodbye. They don’t stay long for fear that death and bad luck are contagious. That if they stick around me too long, they might just catch the bug. Even Connor makes a quick departure, though before he goes he asks if there’s anything he can do for me, anything I need. I say no.
Emily is the only one who lingers for more than two and a half seconds. “Call if you need anything,” she says to me, and I nod my head, knowing I won’t call. Her husband, Theo, stands behind her by three paces or more, checking his watch twice during the twenty-second exchange, and at seeing him Maisie bounds to my side, clutching me tightly by the hand, her body half hidden behind mine. She lets out a feeble cry, and Emily pities the child, saying, “Poor thing,” as if Maisie’s fear has something to do with Nick’s death rather than Theo. Emily is a neighbor, the kind I spend lazy afternoons with on the front porch, killing time while our kids play, my Maisie and her Teddy, who is also four. Teddy, short for Theodore, named after his dad who goes by Theo. Theo and Emily and Teddy. Except we don’t let Maisie play with Teddy when Theo is there. Theo is a gruff man, prone to violence when he’s angry and sometimes when he’s not. Emily has told me as much, and we’ve all heard his voice—Nick, Maisie and me—resounding through open windows and across the still summer night, screaming at Emily and Teddy for reasons unknown.
Theo terrifies Maisie as much as he does me.
“Promise me you’ll call,” she says before Theo lays an autocratic hand on her arm and she turns, walking away with the rest of the drifters who flee the cemetery, one step behind him all the way through the lawn. I promise nothing. It isn’t until they’re out of view that Maisie finally lets go of my hand and steps from the safety of my shadow.
“Are you okay?” I ask her, peering into her eyes, and when she can no longer see Theo or Emily, Maisie nods her head and says that she is. “He’s gone now,” I promise her, and she smiles cautiously.
In my home, my father doesn’t stay long, either. He can’t. There is my mother, of course, sitting at home with a paid babysitter while my father attends to me. He is pulled in two directions. He can’t care for both her and me.
“She’s been seeing things,” he tells me reluctantly. “Hallucinations, like the doctor told us might happen. A black crow sitting on the curtain rod,” he says, “and bugs.”
I grimace. “What kind of bugs?” I ask.
“Ants,” he tells me, “climbing the walls.”
“Go to her,” I say, disheartened to hear my mother’s dementia has taken a turn for the worse. “I’m fine,” I assure him, as I set a hand on his thin, liver-spotted arm, and grant him permission to leave. Felix is asleep; Maisie is twirling around the living room, obliviously dancing.
As my father’s car pulls out of the driveway, I see the resignation. He isn’t sure he should leave. I give him a thumbs-up to be sure. I’m okay, Daddy.
But am I?
That night Maisie sleeps with me again. She toddles into my bedroom with her scruffy teddy bear in her arms, the one that used to be mine. She’s all but eaten an ear off, a nervous habit that’s picking up speed. She stands at the foot of the bed in a nightgown of spring bouquets, dahlias in every shade of pink—fuchsia, salmon, cerise—her feet covered in white ankle socks. Her copper hair hangs long down her back, gnarled and bumpy, the tail end clinging to a rubber band.
“I can’t sleep, Mommy,” she says, gnawing on the ear of that poor bear, though we both know it was only three and a half minutes ago that I kissed her good-night in her own bed. That I pulled the sheets up clear to her neck. That I kissed the bear’s downy forehead and tucked him in, too. That I told Maisie, when she asked for Daddy to tuck her in and give her a kiss good-night, “He’ll be up just as soon as he gets home,” hoping that she didn’t see or hear the blatant lie.
Felix is in my arms, and with a pat, pat, pat to the back, I slowly ease him to sleep. He wears his yellow sleep sack, likely hot in the torrid room. The air conditioner, it seems, has stopped working. What does one do about a broken air conditioner? Only Nick would know, and again I find myself mad that Nick would leave me with a broken air conditioner and no clue what to do. Nick should have made a list of such contingencies, were he to suddenly die. Who should repair the air conditioner, mow the lawn, pay the newspaper boy?
The windows are open. The ceiling fan whirls above us, as in one queen-size bed, Maisie and I sleep. Harriet the dog lies at the foot of it, Felix just three feet away in his bassinet. I don’t sleep because I have stopped sleeping. Sleep, like most things these days, evades me. The room is dark, save for the night-light Maisie insists upon because she is afraid of the dark. But the night-light casts shadows on the darkened walls, and it’s these shadows that I stare at as Felix sleeps and Harriet snores, and Maisie orbits the bed in her sleep, like space junk orbiting the earth, pulling the thin cotton sheet from my sweating body.
And then, come 1:37 a.m., Maisie sits upright in bed.
She talks in her sleep as much as she talks when awake, and so the grumbles that issue from her mouth are of little concern. They’re incomprehensible, mostly. Drivel. Until she begins speaking of Nick, that is. Until her eyes dart open, and she goggles me, her green eyes wide and scared. Her clammy little hand gropes for mine, and she calls out, she cries desperately, pleadingly, “It’s the bad man, Daddy. The bad man is after us!”
“Who, Maisie?” I ask, shaking her gently awake. But Maisie is already awake. At the foot of the bed, Harriet stirs, and beside us, Felix begins to cry. A small cry, merely fussing. He stretches his arms above his head, and I know in the moments to come his small cry will escalate into a full-out squall. Felix is ready to eat, and, as if in preparation, my chest leaks through my gown.
“Him!” she says insufficiently as she sinks low under the bedcovers and tosses them above her head. Maisie is hiding. Hiding from some man. A bad man that is coming after her and Nick. But Maisie knows nothing about bad men, or so I believe, and so I try to convince myself that it’s only make-believe, the hunters who killed Bambi’s mother or maybe Captain Hook coming after her and Nick in a dream. But as she says it again, wide-awake and far more terrified this time for it to be make-believe—the bad man is after us!—my mind makes up for Maisie’s lack of details, imagining a bad man trailing Nick and her down Harvey Road, and at this my heart begins to pound, my hands to sweat more than they are already sweating.
“Maisie,” I plead, as mollifying as I can, though inside I’m anything but relaxed. But Maisie is under the bedcovers now, and she is not speaking. When I try to touch her, she screams out, “Stop!” and then she goes silent, like some sort of toy whose batteries have just died. She’ll say nothing, though I ask and then I beg. And when the begging is ineffective, I find myself becoming angry. It’s out of desperation, only. The reason I become angry. There’s a desperate need to know what it is that Maisie’s prating about. What bad man? What does Maisie mean?
“If you tell me, Maisie, we can get donuts in the morning,” I say, with the promise of a Long John slathered in strawberry icing.
I promise other material things, as well—a new teddy bear, a hamster—hoping to lure her out of the pitch-black, suffocating world beneath those sheets. But that world beneath the sheets is also safe for Maisie, and so she won’t come.
By now, Felix has begun to scream. “Maisie,” I say again over the sound of Felix, trying to pry the covers from her hands. “What bad man?” I ask desperately, and it’s speculation only when I probe, “Was the bad man in a car?” and from under the covers I sense the nod of Maisie’s head and hear her tiny voice whisper, “Yes,” and at this I gasp.
A bad man. In a car. Following Maisie and Nick.
I stroke Maisie’s hair and force myself to take measured breaths, trying hard to remain calm as the world crumbles around me, and I find it harder and harder to breathe.
“The bad man,” Maisie blubbers again as I slip her teddy bear beneath the sheets and into her clammy hands, asking sedately, “Who, Maisie, who? What bad man?” though inside I feel anything but sedate. Who is the bad man that was following Nick and her? Who is the bad man that took my husband’s life?
And without sitting up in bed or sliding the covers from her face, she thrums, her voice masked by the density of the sheets, “The bad man is after us. He’s going to get us,” and with that she flies out from under the sheets like a rocket and into the master bath, where she makes haste of slamming closed and locking the door with so much zeal that a frame falls from the wall and smashes onto the floor, shattering into dozens of pieces.