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Once Upon a Lie (Maeve Conlon Series #1)
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Once Upon a Lie (Maeve Conlon Series #1)

3.3 11
by Maggie Barbieri

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Maeve Conlon's life is coming apart at the seams. Her bakery is barely making ends meet, and one of her daughters spends as much time grounded as the other does studying. Her ex-husband has a new wife, a new baby, and a look of pity for Maeve that's absolutely infuriating. Her father insists he's still independent, but he's slowly and obviously succumbing to


Maeve Conlon's life is coming apart at the seams. Her bakery is barely making ends meet, and one of her daughters spends as much time grounded as the other does studying. Her ex-husband has a new wife, a new baby, and a look of pity for Maeve that's absolutely infuriating. Her father insists he's still independent, but he's slowly and obviously succumbing to Alzheimer's. And now, her cousin Sean Donovan has been found dead, sitting in his car in a public park in quiet Farringville, New York, shot through the head.

There was never much love lost between Maeve and Sean and she's not exactly devastated by his death, but suddenly the police are poking around asking the family questions. It's just one more hassle Maeve doesn't have time for, until she realizes that her father, whose memory and judgment are unreliable at best, is a suspect in the murder. Maeve is determined to clear his name, but is she prepared to cope with the dark memories and long-hidden secrets that doing so might dredge up?

Maggie Barbieri will mesmerize readers with Once Upon a Lie, a gripping novel about family, justice, and the choices we make that define who we are.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/14/2013
Barbieri takes a break from her Murder 101 series (Extra Credit, etc.) with what starts out as a standard suburban mystery but evolves into an unexpectedly riveting tale of ordinary cruelty and complicated heroism. When Sean Donovan, a pillar of the Farringville, N.Y., community, is brutally murdered, his cousin Maeve Conlon, an overworked baker and divorced mother of two, finds herself dragged into the investigation after the police begin to suspect her father, Jack Conlon, of committing the crime. Det. Rodney Poole refuses to disclose why he believes Jack, a genial ex-cop with severe Alzheimer’s, killed his nephew. Desperate to protect her family, Maeve responds by fabricating an alibi for Jack. Maeve’s troubles worsen with her discovery that a patron of her bakery, Michael Lorenzo, is beating his wife and child: she must choose between clearing her father’s name and protecting Tina and Tiffany Lorenzo. All the characters are sharply drawn, particularly Maeve, whose dark humor and stoic attitude mask an unshakeable moral core. The details of Maeve’s connection to Sean and Michael unravel with excruciating slowness, and Barbieri skillfully avoids tipping her hand until the last possible moment, leaving readers both breathless and unnerved by the novel’s conclusion. Agent: Deborah Schneider, Schneider Gelfman Agency. (Dec.)
From the Publisher

“[A] riveting tale of ordinary cruelty and complicated heroism…All the characters are sharply drawn, particularly Maeve, whose dark humor and stoic attitude mask an unshakable moral core. The details of Maeve's connection to Sean and Michael unravel with excruciating slowness, and Barbieri skillfully avoids tipping her hand until the last possible moment, leaving readers both breathless and unnerved by the novel's conclusion.” —Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

“[Barbieri] takes readers on a dark ride through the life of an abuse survivor. This in-depth look at the daily thoughts and feelings of the heroine is intriguing. The story hooks readers until the shocking end. This reviewer is looking forward to more from this talented author.” —RT Book Reviews (4½ stars, Top Pick)

“An excellent, edgy thriller. Maggie Barbieri breaks new ground with this provocative new novel showcasing one burnt out mother's desperate determination to protect her family's future by facing down her past. Secrets, betrayals, stunning revelations. This book has it all.” —LISA GARDNER

“Wow. What begins as a wry and witty suburban mystery soon becomes a darkly powerful tale of family secrets, loss, and revenge. Surprising, sinister, and quietly disturbing.” —HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN

Once Upon a Lie's Maeve Conlon is a terrific heroine--funny, smart, brave and, above all, real.” —ALISON GAYLIN

Once Upon a Lie is a clever, spicy, humorous and insightful story of what can happen when long-suppressed memories and dark secrets are kept buried too long. Maggie Barbieri digs deep beneath the serene surface of suburbia where forbidden things happen and delivers a surprising, suspenseful and satisfying story.” —MARY JANE CLARK

Kirkus Reviews
★ 2013-11-25
The creator of the college-themed cozies in the Murder 101 series (Extra Credit, 2012, etc.) goes big in her first stand-alone. Maeve Conlon's life is finally back on track after her husband, Cal, left her for her beautiful Brazilian best friend, Gabriela. A Culinary Institute grad, she's made a success of the Comfort Zone, the gourmet shop she owns in Westchester County. And she's making progress toward mastering single parenting: Her older daughter, Rebecca, is acing high school, although her younger daughter, Heather, may be hanging out with the wrong crowd. Maeve finds time to help her ex-cop father, Jack, adjust to life in Buena del Sol, the care community he moved into when Alzheimer's disease started stealing his memory. She also summons up the courage to accompany Jo, her longtime friend and business partner, on her foray into speed dating. But her most promising prospect of the evening, the charmingly evasive Rodney, turns out to be a police detective. And Rodney's got his sights set on Jack for the murder of Maeve's cousin, Sean Donovan, who was found a short time ago in Van Cortlandt Park with his pants down and most of his head gone. Although there was no love lost between Maeve and Sean, who bullied her mercilessly as a child, Maeve needs to pay attention to her cousin's murder, if only to protect Jack. Soon, Maeve finds her life again spiraling out of control as multiple allegiances compete for her limited supply of patience. Grace and humor mark this tale of a woman trying to protect her family without losing herself.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Maeve Conlon Series , #1
Edition description:
First Edition
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

Read an Excerpt

Once Upon A Lie

By Maggie Barbieri

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2013 Maggie Barbieri
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-01168-8


The recipe was simple:

Take one old guy with budding Alzheimer's, a cast of characters who had never met a potato they didn't like, and a dead body in a closed casket. Add accusations and recriminations to taste. Mix well and bake for two hours from either three to five or seven to nine.

Voilà. Once everything cools to a simmering rage, you have an Irish wake.

Maeve had set aside exactly seventeen minutes for paying her respects to her cousin Sean. Any longer than that and she'd be late for Rebecca's soccer game, something she had promised her oldest would never happen again after last week's embarrassment. Being late to the game was bad enough, but forgetting the cut-up oranges? Apparently, that was an offense punishable by death. Or at least the collective stink eye from a bunch of mothers whose greatest daily decision was grande or venti.

Traveling with an octogenarian with a faulty short-term memory was slowing her down; she was now down to thirteen minutes. Add to that the uncomfortable creeping of a pair of unruly Spanx and Maeve could feel her composure begin to crack. "Come on, Dad. Let's get in line," she said after signing the guest book. She looked at the names of the other mourners who had signed in before she did and noted all of the usual suspects: the McDonoughs, the Dorseys, the Trainors. All were people from her past, and all were people who, if asked, would say that they had helped raise poor, motherless Maeve. All were people who probably felt at least partially responsible for the meager success she had achieved in life. All were people who had turned a blind eye to her situation and who were therefore partially responsible for what had happened to her.

She spied her father heading toward the Giordano wake across the hall; she grabbed his arm and pulled him back. It seemed definitely more appealing as wakes went, what with the tiny yet vociferous mourners and the misplaced scent of salami wafting out, but it was not Maeve and her father's ultimate destination. Now down to just ten minutes of meaningful visitation, she hustled him into the black-clad queue of visitors that had formed in the short time it had taken her to write her name and address in the guest book. In her head, she was listing all of the items she'd need to pick up from the store after this jaunt, spectating at a soccer game, and shuttling her dad back to the assisted-living facility. Sean Donovan's death, and the scheduling of his wake, had proven to be incredibly ill timed.

As they approached the casket, which was closed — much to the disappointment of the gaggle of Irishwomen from the neighborhood who had turned out — Maeve surveyed the room, her eyes settling on two guys who could have been family members, their ruddy complexions and ill-fitting suits two defining features of the Conlon men. It dawned on her quickly: cops. She had been raised by one and had spent enough time around his friends that she could spot one a mile away. Two? That was easy. When they traveled in pairs, they really stood out in a crowd. The rumpled blue suits and worn cordovan loafers were a dead giveaway, no pun intended. She didn't have to wonder what they were doing there; Sean had been found in his car in a deserted section of Van Cortlandt Park, a hole in his head that he really didn't need, as he was prone to saying while he was alive. That his pants were around his knees and he had a glove box full of unopened condoms didn't lend credence to his wife's story that he had gone out for a gallon of milk, but it did lend a layer of sordidness to the story that Maeve found more than a little amusing.

"What're the po-po doing here?" Jack asked, nodding in the direction of the cops. Over at the inappropriately named Buena del Sol, a landlocked facility for people like Jack, they watched MTV a little more than Maeve would have cared for.

She shushed him and pulled him closer. His were failing faculties, but he was in good physical shape; even still, his strength, as he tried to pull away from her, was surprising.

"Why are we here?" he asked for not the first time that day.

"Sean, Dad. He died."

He gasped, as he did every time she reminded him of the fact. "From what?"

In the past six days, she'd made up a different cause of death every time he asked, and she was running out of reasons her healthy, a little-over-half-century cousin had passed on. "Chronic diarrhea."

"I hear that's a terrible way to go," Jack said, shaking his head sadly. He seemed genuinely chagrined despite the fact that Jack's nickname for Sean while growing up was "shit for brains."

Funny. She'd always thought that Jack would kill him.

The widow Donovan, Dolores, rooted in her rightful place in front of the casket, beckoned Maeve forward; Maeve felt that she had to oblige. She pulled Jack along with her, his focus on Sean's toothsome eldest daughter, a girl who apparently thought that wearing a low-cut cocktail dress was the way to go at her father's wake. When they finally arrived to pay their condolences, Dolores threw herself into Jack's arms, the old man not entirely sure what he was to do with a hundred and eighty pounds of soft, quivering, taffeta-encased flesh. Maeve interceded and wedged herself between the woman and her father, whispering her condolences while wondering how she could extricate herself and Jack and get the hell out of Dodge without attracting anyone's notice.

Two minutes to go. She raced over to the casket and knelt beside her father, his eyes closed in prayer. He may not have known who was in the casket, but he certainly remembered how to say a prayer for whoever it was. Jack was a daily communicant at the assisted-living facility, not remembering that in his old life — pre-Buena del Sol — he was a shitty Catholic who hadn't been to church since his beloved wife's funeral almost four decades earlier.

Maeve took in the flower arrangements piled high around the gleaming mahogany coffin; Dolores had spared no expense. She looked at the photo collage that Dolores had undoubtedly implored her daughters to create on behalf of their beloved father. Sean at the beach; Sean at the Yankee game. Sean with his hand on the shoulder of his nephew Brian as Brian was confirmed. Dolores and Sean's wedding day. Maeve eyed the rosary beads draped over the top of the casket, wondering if Sean had even known how to say a decade of the rosary while he had walked the earth. To anyone watching, Maeve must have looked like a grief-stricken family member whispering her last good-byes to a beloved relative. She was certain she heard the sympathetic clucking of the old women who sat in the row of chairs directly behind her, touched by her studied composure in the face of an unspeakable tragedy.

Truth be told, she had more feelings for old man Giordano, laid out in the room across the hall, going to his eternal rest amid the cries of more emotional mourners, than she did for the man who lay beneath the wood on which her fingers were splayed.

"Bye, Sean," she whispered. "See you in hell."


The Spanx notwithstanding, Maeve was in a black mood by the time she got to the soccer game. Someone else had brought the oranges today; apparently, if the girls didn't have them on the sidelines, one of them might die. But as with many things in her life, Maeve didn't have the energy or the intensity to bring to the task and was glad that in addition to attending a wake in the Bronx, she hadn't been given the role of "refreshment mom" today. She was already teetering on an emotional precipice and needed only one small push to send her careening over the side.

It was October, and with the dawning of the month came soccer and an inordinate amount of talking about citrus fruit and electrolytes. Maeve had been through it before and knew the script by heart.

Her car sat perpendicular to the field, offering her a splendid view of the game. Her cell phone rang as she was making the decision between removing the offending undergarment in her car or in the Porta-Potty adjacent to the field, both options presenting unique challenges. Charlene Harrison, the director of Buena del Sol, was in her usual high dudgeon. This time, she didn't even offer a greeting when she heard Maeve's voice.

"If he gets out again, he's out of here."

"He didn't get out, Charlene," Maeve said, hiking her skirt up. She did a quick check around the parking lot to make sure everyone was fixated on the game and not on her striptease. "I took him to a wake." Jack was a wanderer, and the staff at Buena del Sol had strict orders — the guy got signed out by a responsible adult or stayed put. No ifs, ands, or buts. Jack, however, had other ideas, ideas that took him to the far reaches of Farringville and anywhere else he saw fit to go. As he reminded her almost daily, he was a grown man and grown men could do what they wanted, a statement that was only partially true. Grown men who had all of their faculties could do what they wanted; the others had to stay in the care of the staff of their assisted-living facility.

"Well, you didn't sign him out."

"I'm sorry?" Her dress now pulled up around her waist, she hooked a thumb into the waistband of her girdle. Charlene Harrison apparently had no idea that Maeve had more pressing matters, namely a pair of recalcitrant underpants that might require the Jaws of Life to free her from its binds.

"You should be. Do you know we almost called the police?"

"But you didn't, right?" The last thing Maeve needed was to see her name, or that of her father, in the local paper's police blotter. That would have tongues wagging for weeks, and she was already suspect, having gotten divorced several years earlier from a man who apparently preferred his spouses younger, fitter, and formerly the trophy wives of fellow parishioners at Blessed Sacrament Roman Catholic Church. She rolled down one side of the spandex underwear. "So we're good?"

Charlene was letting out exasperated sighs on the other end of the phone. "We're not good. We're less than not good. The other night? That was inexcusable."

"What happened the other night?"

"He was gone five hours as far as we can figure out," Charlene said. "Could have been longer."

That was news to Maeve. "Where was he?"

"We don't know. All we know is that he came back on his own. So God knows, Ms. Conlon." She paused. "God knows."

"What night was this?" Maeve asked.

"Saturday. The twenty-ninth."

Saturday, the twenty-ninth was the day Sean was murdered. Maeve would ask him about it, but it wouldn't do any good. He wouldn't have any recollection of where he had been. He told her once that he liked to walk to the park down by the river, but that was a good three-mile walk from Buena del Sol. At eighty, was he really capable of making a six-mile round-trip journey? If so, Maeve gave him credit. He couldn't remember where his shoes were, but he could find his way to and from the park. The mind — his mind — was an incredible thing.

Charlene was still talking. "Just remember to sign him out next time."

"Will do," Maeve said, and snapped her phone shut. Both hands free, she pulled off the Spanx, one leg getting tangled in her stiletto heel before she threw both of them on the passenger seat, taking in deep breaths. Never again would she take for granted the ability to breathe deeply from her diaphragm. She leaned her head back and closed her eyes, wondering how long it would be before she had to tackle the onerous task of finding another home for Jack. This was his second, and the last one in the immediate vicinity. He had a bit of a wandering jones, and that made him wholly unsuited to life in an assisted-living facility, where people like Jack needed to be present and accounted for at all times.

She wondered how to get him placed under house arrest. An ankle monitor on her elderly father would be just the ticket to take one stress off her plate, but she was sure they were practically impossible to come by on the open market.

Now that she could breathe, she watched the game, noticing Rebecca on the sidelines scanning the crowd for her mother. Maeve knew she couldn't spend the entire game in the car, even though that was her inclination and something she did on a fairly regular basis. It didn't endear her to the other moms, and it incensed Rebecca, who felt that her mother needed to be front and center, cheering for the daughter who was playing for a college scholarship and a way out of this "sucky town," as she liked to refer to it. Maeve had the good sense not to tell her it was actually a sucky "village," Rebecca not really caring what Farringville was, technically.

She put her shoes back on and made her way down to the bleachers, her high heels unsuited to picking over gravel and grass, her dress feeling tighter now that she didn't have anything pushing her belly back toward her spine. She passed a group of mothers, some of them her friends, most with an unnatural devotion to soccer, and took her place on the lowest bleacher in the stands, closest to the field but with the best view of the chain-link fence. She didn't have the energy to climb any farther, so it would have to do. During the next time-out, she waved to Rebecca, making sure her daughter saw that she was there, in the stands, and cheering as though her life depended on it.

Sitting on the top row was her fifteen-year-old, Heather, and with her was a boy that Maeve recognized from Rebecca's grade who was grade-A trouble. Maeve filed that away for later, thinking that she would have to tread lightly to find out about this new boy and what he had to do with her youngest. Heather avoided her mother's gaze and was probably trying her best to squelch the embarrassment she felt at having a mother who thought nothing of showing up at a soccer game in a black dress and heels. Heather wasn't much different from Jack when it came to memory; although Maeve had reminded her that she would be attending Sean's wake, by the time the sentence was out of her mouth, Heather was on to something else, something in which she was the star and the only person who mattered.

If hell had a sound track, it was the sound of a bunch of overeager suburban mothers screaming the names of their daughters over and over and over again. If Maeve never heard Marcy Gerson scream the name "MEER-ANNN-DAAHHH" again, it would be too soon. That high-pitched wail haunted her dreams, even though otherwise she found Marcy pleasant to be around. Maeve plastered a smile on her face and clapped enthusiastically as the girls ran back onto the field, their time-out over.

She looked up to see her ex, Cal, slide in next to her, his infant son strapped to his chest, facing forward, his little arms flailing as Cal rearranged himself so that he could sit comfortably on the bleacher. Devon was Charles "Cal" Callahan's latest accessory, the baby's mother, Gabriela, being the second. He turned and waved at Heather, who gifted him with a big smile and a wave that looked sincere.

When it came to her daughters, Maeve accepted her role as creator and nurturer of all things bad and inconvenient, but she didn't relish it.

"Glad you could come. What's Gabriela up to? Writing a column telling us all why we should be wearing cerulean this season?" she asked, not proud. Sarcasm in this instance was beneath her, and she bit back more biting words that would just illustrate how bitter she was that her onetime friend was now her former husband's wife.

"What's the score?" he asked, ignoring her. He was good at that.

Maeve pointed at the scoreboard. "Three–two. We're losing."

Cal gave her a once-over. "I didn't realize this game called for formal attire," he said, pulling a cloth diaper from his back pocket and wiping the baby's mouth.

"Sean's wake."

"Oh, right." Cal focused on the game while continuing the conversation. "How was that?"

Maeve pulled a pair of sunglasses out of her purse and put them on. "The usual. A bunch of old biddies from the neighborhood, Father Madden ..."

"He's still around?"

Father Madden had married them a long, long time ago and had been very disappointed to learn that the vows hadn't "taken." "He is. He's doing the funeral in the morning."


Excerpted from Once Upon A Lie by Maggie Barbieri. Copyright © 2013 Maggie Barbieri. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

MAGGIE BARBIERI is a freelance editor as well as a mystery novelist. Her father was a member of the NYPD, and his stories provide much of the background for her novels. She is the author of books including Murder 101, Extracurricular Activities, and Quick Study.

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Once upon a Lie 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
BlooBayoo More than 1 year ago
I've been waiting to write this review for over six months. I received a copy of this book last Spring in advance of a mystery panel I led in which the author participated. I finished the book in two days and that’s only because I forced myself to put it down and ‘pace’ myself. I was really blown away by this book. It is very different than the author’s other offerings (the Murder 101 series). This is not a light mystery. This book is deep and soul twisting. It will make you ask questions about the people in your life, how well do you really know anyone, your spouse, your friends, your parents, your children. Reading it is like being dragged into a riptide and the current just moves faster and faster until it dumps you out in shallow water, shivering and knowing that something really big just happened to you, something that changed you. This story is writing at its best because it forces you pay attention. It makes you ask questions. It shakes you from your everyday world and demands you look deeper. Buy this book. You won’t be sorry. It’s the best book I’ve read this year, hands down.
SEStone519 More than 1 year ago
Maeve Conlon has a lot on her plate. Between running her bakery, dealing with her ex-husband and uncooperative teenage daughters, and trying to keep her father from wandering away from his nursing home, Maeve barely has time for herself. She certainly doesn't have the time to deal with the death of her cousin, Sean, though there was no love lost between them. However when the police begin looking at her father as a suspect in Sean's murder, she's forced to clear his name and deal with memories she'd rather keep buried. I think what impressed me most about Once Upon a Lie was the characters. The secondary characters--like Maeve's father Jack, her friend/employee Jo, and all of the town gossips--gave the story its depth. The main character can only do so much to create the sense of her world, so the other players make a world of difference. There was just the right balance of mystery, deceit, and drama to keep me turning the pages. The difference between the setting of suburbia--where everything is sunshine and roses--and the darkness that oozes from all of the secrets put me on edge. It does justice to the thriller genre. My only complaint about the book has to do with one of Maeve's secrets, so I can't exactly divulge it. I'll just say that one of the secrets let me down as I've seen it done way too many times in the crime/mystery/thriller genre. This book was so well written that that secret doesn't do the story justice. I'd recommend this book to thriller junkies, anyone who loves a good, dark mystery. Rating: four of five stars Once Upon a Lie by Maggie Barbieri will be published in hardcover by Minotaur Books and will be available December 10,2013 *I received an advanced copy of this book in return for an unbiased review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It is one of those books that you can not put down. Loved it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
While good in the beginning, this book is not mesmerizing. I consider my vocabulary to be substantial, but I was constantly being interrupted by words for which I had to find a definition. Seemed as though the author was going out of her way to use synonyms of everyday words, thus interrupting the flow of the story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed this short story.trying to figure who was.the killer kept me.reading late at night. Enjoyed this author.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be fair,at best. Didnt really care about the characters...to whiney. The ending was a bit of a let down..didJack know the truth or not ? Spend your money on a different book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Skip this one.