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Die A Little    by Megan Abbott order for
Die A Little
by Megan Abbott
Order:  USA  Can
Tantor Audio Books, 2005 (2005)
Paperback, CD
* *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Megan Abbott tells a tale of intrigue and double lives in Die a Little, one that reminds us that while national memory likes to pretend the 1950s were a gentler time, drugs, prostitution, and murder still infiltrated the neighborhoods.

Siblings Laura and Bill King have always been close. They lived together in Pasadena, California where Laura taught at a preparatory school for women and Bill served as a local detective. But their relationship and lives change after Alice Steele crashes into Bill with her car and then her heart. The two become inseparable and marry. Though she sees Bill less than before, Laura is happy for her brother and quickly befriends Alice. Laura secures her a job as a sewing teacher at her school and they see each other often. But the more Laura learns about her sister-in-law, the less comfortable she feels. Though at first Laura and Bill believed Alice might have been running from a dark past, Laura comes to realize that Alice's dark side is still with her.

Alice's shady history creeps into the present as people show up randomly, and Alice gives limited and inconsistent information about them. Her friend Lois - undoubtedly having seen rough times but still trapped in that lifestyle - appears often. Joe Avalon (a name today that would evoke the image of a porn star) also seems linked to Alice's past. In an attempt to distract Laura, Alice sets her up with Mike Standish, a suave press man who can get into all the overbooked, overpriced places to eat, and hit any of the best clubs in Los Angeles. But Laura can't put her fears aside, and keeps digging. One piece falls into place when a family friend shows up dead. Soon after, Laura is warned that Alice will lead her brother into trouble. But as she investigates, there's another death, and the stakes rise so that Laura fears for her own life and her brother's. Can she save Bill without coming between him and his wife?

Ellen Archer has a great voice, particularly when distinguishing between different female characters in dialogue. Her male voice is decent but lacks the range, and to some degree the complexity, that some of the characters deserve. But the gentle voice in which she presents the first person narrative of Laura King is delightful to listen to, and quite easy to fall into cadence with. Die a Little presents a dark tale in a moderate tone - that is, the story is compelling and has intense moments but doesn't completely reside in darkness. It has enough simplicity and warmth that it ranks a few shades above noir but still qualifies as suspense.

Note: This review refers to an unabridged (7 hrs 30 min) audiobook read by Ellen Archer, available from Tantor Audio in 6 CDs or 1 MP3 CD.

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