Review by François Peneaud
In 1980, Trevor Schalk, an unpleasant but very rich man, is killed in his own home. His wife, having an affair with their lawyer, the maid, with whom the victim was having an affair, and their young daughter, who understood what was going on, are there when the murder takes place, but nobody is convicted. Fast forward to 2006, when Timothy Gilbraight, a young closeted actor, finds himself beset by weird dreams of having been Schalk in his previous life. Both men have the same psychologist, who had been conducting past lives therapy with Schalk. Enter Amy Devlin, a young woman recently established as a P.I., engaged by Gilbraight to find out who killed him, or more precisely, his previous self.
Writers Christina Weir and Nunzio DeFilippis have constructed a plot cleverly played throughout the book, with clues and revelations judiciously spread. The more engaging aspect is the way the characters are rounded, from Devlin herself, who’s neither as honest as she seems nor as incompetent as people think she is, to the members of the Schalk family, who obviously have secrets to hide. One could think that the gayness of Timothy would be a plot point among others, since the personality of Schalk, a womanising jerk, seems to take greater control of the young man as the story advances and the contrast between the two men couldn’t be more pronounced. To the credit of the writers, Timothy and his lover are treated exactly like any other characters, and their relationship suffers from the pressure of the events like any other relationship would suffer.
Artist Christopher Mitten has a sparse style, and his strength is expressions and body language. His storytelling is also effective, and he never descends to melodramatic gestures. There’s no posturing from the characters, in art or in words, and the backgrounds, though hardly packed, are solid.
What sets this apart from regular crime stories is the fantasy elements, which are well integrated and solved in a coherent manner. Past Lies is an entertaining book that feels like a TV pilot, and that’s not a supposed to be a reproach.
Subtitled ‘An Amy Devlin Mystery’, Past Lies was reprinted in hardback with a different cover in 2010 for the publication of a second volume (All Saints Day) showcasing the eponymous character, followed in 2014 by a third volume (Lost and Found).