We love a good summer thriller and the latest offering from New York Times Bestselling Author Rachel Howzell Hall (‘These Toxic Things’, ‘And Now She’s Gone’, and ‘They All Fall Down’) does not disappoint! In fact, it has been one of our fave reads this year, with a story that captivates at every turn which means you won’t want to put this one down.
‘We Lie Here‘ (July 12, Thomas & Mercer) begins with a woman’s trip back to her hometown, which then reveals heart-sinking secrets in an edge-of-your-seat twisty novel of murder and family deceit. TV writer Yara Gibson has come back to her hometown of Palmdale, California to host her parents’ anniversary party and find the perfect family mementos for the celebration. But then Yara receives a disturbing text from her mother’s estranged childhood friend, Felicia: I have information that will change your life. The messages keep coming, insisting that Yara talk to her “before it’s too late.”
After Felicia’s body is found floating in a lake, Yara finds a key to a remote cabin, which contains files related to a mysterious tragedy from 1998. What secrets was Felicia hiding? And how much of what Yara knows about her family is true? The deeper Yara digs, the more she fears that Felicia was right. And uncovering the truth about what happened at the cabin all those years ago will either change Yara’s life or end it.
We were lucky enough to share an excerpt from the book. Do yourself a favor and buy this book immediately after reading the preview below.
Thursday, June 25, 1998
Every summer, the Afro-Americans came to hoot and holler at Lake Paz. Yes, every summer they arrived and talked loudly, and never kept private things private, and always spilled those secret things across the woods like cheap wine. And they always spilled those most-awful private things while good people, quiet people, tried to sleep.
Birdie glanced at the clock on her nightstand: almost an hour before midnight and those people in the cabin next door were doing this now. Of course they were. Their anger had slipped through the evergreens and rustled through the high grass to pull her from sleep.
They made the first Black family in these woods look flawless. Now, that family-the best of their people-would drive up, say hello as they moved from the car to their porch, bags of groceries already in hand and purchased from wherever they lived ten months out of the year.
The noise from that family would be laughter. A woman’s. A girl’s. His. Melodic. Harmonious. Pure. And he would play the piano, too. “Rhapsody in Blue” had been Birdie’s favorite, and he’d play a few other songs she recognized from the movies or television shows. The girl played piano, too. Not as good as her father, but it was still nice to listen to. Not that Birdie would ever admit that to Bud. Oh no, not ever.
Any time that family sat lakeside, Birdie would hear them speak soft words. I love you and You’re beautiful and Yes, I’d like another. And the way he looked at his woman and at his little one as he said those words … So soft. So dreamy.
What was that like? To hear soft words and silken declarations of love?
But that had been many summers ago. Tonight? Only hard words. Stop and Let me go and Please don’t, with the little girl crying, screaming, shrieking even.
Birdie studied Bud, still sleeping in bed beside her. He was snoring with his mouth open. Lost to this world for the next seven hours. That was for the best, since Bud didn’t much like the Blacks-not the ones who’d vacationed at that cabin summers before and definitely not the ones vacationing there now.
The girl shrieked again.
Birdie’s pulse jumped, and she pushed away the heavy quilt. Mosquitoes lunged at her bare, pale legs. She slapped them away, then grabbed the bedside can of DEET and sprayed. After pulling on her robe and pushing her feet into slippers, she tiptoed toward the doorway.
The hardwood floor creaked.
Bud snuffied, then turned over in bed. “Where you going?”
“Fresh air,” she said. “Can’t sleep.”
But he was already out again. Good. With Bud asleep, she wouldn’t have to involve Karlton, Lake Paz’s sole sheriff’s deputy. He’d warned Bud and Birdie several times: Leave them people alone, or I’ll have to bring you in again.
Let sleeping Buds lie.
Birdie grabbed the flashlight from the living room coffee table and the pistol from the empty sugar tub in the pantry. Just in case Bud was right.
The night air smelled of dying lake grass and still water and held the heat of the day. Croaking frogs and crickets vied to make the most noise. Tonight, the crickets were winning. Sometimes these were the only noises in the woods by the lake, and sometimes Birdie thought she was the only human surrounded by trees, water, and a sky as wide as forever.
Birdie now heard crying coming from the cabin.
This lakeside community had one restaurant, a general store, two churches, and a bar. No crime. No problems. Maybe not as fancy as Lake Arrowhead with all those movie stars and tycoons building mansions around its shores. Lake Paz was natural, created by the San Andreas Fault. Or, according to legend, created by the devil himself. Lake Arrowhead couldn’t say that.
Beneath that moonless, forever sky, Birdie tromped through the crackling dry leaves and hard pine needles, past that gold Camaro (the only thing Bud actually liked about these people) with its god-awful thunderous muffler.
“Please, don’t! Ohmigod, stop! Please.”
All of this late-night hullabaloo made her underarms sticky with perspiration. What was he doing to her? And with their daughter right there? She’d heard that mental illness plagued the family. Every morn ing, she saw the woman, glassy-eyed and limp, wandering the shores of the lake. The child, wearing her Cookie Monster nightgown, trailing behind her mother, would stop to dip her hands into the water, but then call out Mommy, wait! because Mommy never stopped because she was drunk or whacked-out on drugs. The girl could’ve drowned a million times, and Mommy would’ve never known.
Maybe tonight he had tired of her spells, of searching for her again in the woods, of finding the little girl alone on the porch or playing by herself near the lake again.
Or maybe she cheated on him, and he found out and threatened to leave.
Or maybe he cheated on her, and the silly young thing had been enough of a fool to ask him about it.
“I’m begging you!”
Birdie’s blood chilled. Crazy or not, any woman-white, Black, purple-knew desperation when she heard it. She slowed in her step as she came upon the kelly-green A-frame cabin, the nicest cabin at Lake Paz. It had a basement, a hot tub, and a deck that overlooked the lake. They can’t do anything without flash and noise, Bud had complained, even though he’d wanted both a hot tub and a deck. Even though he owned the town’s only general store, he still couldn’t afford those fancy-pants things.
Hesitant, Birdie climbed the porch steps and pushed the doorbell. As she waited, worry flitted around her belly like fireflies.
She ran her fingers through her short blonde hair, then banged her fist against the door. “It’s Roberta Sumner from next door. I’m gonna call the sheriff’s if you don’t open up.” She slapped at her neck-she’d forgotten to DEET there, and the skeetos were eating her alive.
The door cracked open. A smell wafted through that small slit. It wasn’t alcohol. It wasn’t drugs. Not even blood. Did terror have a scent?
Birdie stuck her hand into the robe pocket hiding the pistol.
All had quieted in the cabin. Even the girl had stopped crying.
The woman’s eye, bloodshot and swollen from crying, peeked out at her. “Mrs. Sumner, how are you?” Always polite, she now sounded hoarse, tired.
“You all are too loud.” These hard words made Birdie a little dizzy, a little nauseated. Because that wasn’t what she’d meant to say, not right away. A Nebraskan, she’d been raised to offer pleasantries first-how do you do, lovely evening isn’t it, that’s a lovely coat. It was almost midnight, though. “You’re gonna wake up the dead making all that noise.”
“I’m so sorry,” the young woman said.
Birdie tried to peer past her into the living room. The space was dark and quiet. Too dark. Too quiet. She gripped the pistol tighter. “Everything okay?” she asked. “Do you need the police? An ambulance?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” the woman said. “Just a little disagreement. Nothing serious.”
Birdie snorted. “More than a little disagreement, gal. And it sounds very serious. You woke me up, and you damn near woke Bud up, too, and you and me both know … “
The woman’s eye widened.
What they both knew burned in the small space between them.
“We won’t trouble you again, Mrs. Sumner. I’m so sorry.”
Birdie squinted at the young mother on the other side of the door. She knew her entire face-tawny skin with freckles across the bridge of her nose, lips that usually curved into a smile but had broken tonight. Those brown eyes-or brown eye-weary, no longer merry. A flirt, she’d tried to soften Bud with those soft eyes and generous smile. The poor thing didn’t understand that Bud would never, not ever … not even with a pretty thing like her.
“We’ve cooled off, I promise,” the woman said. “We’re leaving tomorrow. This will be the last fight you’ll hear. I promise, absolutely promise you.”
Birdie said, “Good. You take care, okay? Get some help.” She leaned in closer and whispered, “You need anything, just leave me a note beneath my doormat. Nobody else has to know, okay? Just between us gals.” She winked.
The woman nodded and whispered, “Thank you, Mrs. Sumner.”
The front door gently closed, and Birdie started back to her own cabin. In the middle of her journey, she paused beneath the pine trees and cocked her head to hear …
Not a whimper. Not a word.
In the bathroom, Birdie grabbed the bottle of pink calamine lotion from the medicine cabinet and spread it across her neck, arms, and legs until she looked like a hot dog. Then she-
What was that? She closed her eyes to hear …
No, it sounded like a small … pop.
Like a light bulb blowing out or …
Yes, she’d check under the doormat first thing tomorrow.
“Bird?” Bud shouted. “Come to bed. Can’t sleep with you making all that noise.”
“Coming, Bud.” She placed the cap back on the lotion.
Yes, it sounded like a bulb blowing out.
A small … pop.
Excerpted from ‘We Lie Here’ by Rachel Howzell Hall with permission from the publisher, Thomas & Mercer. Copyright © 2022 by Rachel Howzell Hall. All rights reserved.