Publisher: Random House Children's Books
Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge. They blame Hancock for their mother's death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family's homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock's daughter, Lily. Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistible good looks and charm on unsuspecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there's more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him.
(Highlight to view spoilers)
Lies Beneath is a bit of an enigma to me: despite the fact that there were quite a few things going on that normally would have made me dislike a book, I actually thought it was pretty good because they worked here. It had a nice pace - Brown hit a perfect balance between creating a slow build-up and maintaining reader interest. I also liked that it had a creepy, moody tone that slowly became slightly more upbeat - even while becoming more tense. It was as if the story were revealed not only through Calder's voice, but also through his emotions. The writing felt a bit stiff, detached, and lacking in emotions at times, but that felt right for Calder.
I also really liked Brown's world building. Despite the fact that I am about to make a lot of comparisons, I did not in any way feel like Lies Beneath was derivative. I love Brown's take on merpeople -- I was always more a fan of Peter Pan's mermaids than Ariel. I like that Brown's monsters were actually monsters! Calder's sisters were seriously chill-inducingly creepy -- and it was awesome. I also really liked the way(s) that the merpeople fed on emotions. (spoiler) It was a bit like Sulley's discovery in Monsters, Inc. to see the way Calder was able to 'feed' off Lily while with her -- the sustained laugh packs way more of a wallop than the scream. (In the case of Lies Beneath, the emotion freely given lasts longer than the one forcefully taken.) I thought this was beautifully done. It would have taken some pretty special circumstances -- considering merpeople's usual behaviour -- to learn that. (end spoiler)
My reactions to Brown's characters are a bit more complex. I thought Lily was a smart, strong young lady with a flair for the dramatic and a tendency to take herself a bit too seriously. I thought Calder's emotional and social inadequacies made sense when put into context. (And his stalker behavior even works, considering this all starts because he is supposed to be stalking her. Brown never tries to make it anything but creepy; and everyone who knows about it calls it what it is.) (spoiler) The only point where I had a WTF moment with Calder was when he went to visit 'Joe.' I am sure this was supposed to display his deep need for real emotional connections, his profound loneliness, something meaningful; but really, it was just too creepy. (end spoiler) Calder's sisters and Lily's family are also really well done -- I especially liked Maris and Sophie! Jack and Gabrielle, however, always felt more like devices used to move the plot along or mouthpieces for Brown to pass on information than actual characters.
I was also a little disappointed with the mysterious aspects of Lies Beneath. I anticipated every single reveal long before I think Brown intended. I thought about this for a while, and I don't necessarily think that Brown handled her foreshadowing clumsily. I think it was more that each thing just made sense for the characters based on their personalities and actions; it was the natural progression, if you will. I would have liked to be a little more surprised, though. All in all, very good for a debut effort!
3.5 of 5 stars
This review also appears on Goodreads; a review copy was provided by the publisher.