John Ellsworth Begins a Saga
Any proper series aspiring to become a mainstay needs a solid protagonist, a recurring lead who can carry one story after the next and keep people interested in them as much as they are in the plot. In many cases book series fall flat on their faces because the authors never paid enough attention to their heroes, perhaps hoping they would develop themselves as the events progressed. I feel like the more we become acquainted with a character, the more we see of their inner lives and personal moments, the likelier we’ll have the desire to witness them return time and time again, if only in hopes of learning more about a persona which fascinates us. John Ellsworth is an author who really took this philosophy to heart when he began writing his Michael Gresham series, with the first book, titled Lies She Never Told Me, delving profoundly into the protagonist’s past and personal life.
This is the kind of story which almost feels like a fictionalized biography in a sense, beginning even before Michael Gresham’s time. Ellsworth takes us on a journey through the man’s heritage, going all the way back to his grandfather and the times of 1920s Chicago mob wars. We follow the various people in his family throughout history, visiting the Second World War, prisoner-of-war camps and the mass murder in Chicago just to name a few, leading up to the birth of Michael himself.
We have a rather profound examination of his childhood and the steps he took along the way to grow from a young boy into a promising lawyer, even meeting the famous investigator-to-be Marcel while being part of Operation Desert Shield. Perhaps most importantly in his personal growth, we see him dealing with the final request of dying grandmother: she asks him to murder a man responsible for heinous crimes. Being both a man of the law and believing none are above it, he faces down a fork in the road where he might just find himself before anyone else.
A Worthy Origin Story
In most cases origin stories are reserved for comic book villains and whatnot, but in Michael Gresham’s case I feel it was entirely justified to delve this profoundly into the character, and that’s in no small part thanks to John Ellsworth’s ability to make a real story out of it. Despite taking a little while to get to the actual character, the author does a remarkable job at capturing our attention with the first chapter, breathlessly galloping around the place and dragging us along by force. He also bases much of the fiction in this book on real events and accounts, lending them a noticeable air of authenticity and palpable gravity. In other words, the weight of what his family had to endure even before Michael’s time is far from being lost on us, even educating us on various elements such as the crime scene in 1920s Chicago and living conditions for POW’s.
When we finally arrive to Michael’s story, it doesn’t feel like the novel has been dragging on by any stretch of the imagination. Rather, it feels like a logical event which itself is part of a bigger story. As we see him grow from a baby the focus of the story is aptly shifted towards him until he himself becomes the plot. I admit some of the passages in regards to his daily life while growing up did leave me a little bored by their banality, but I will concede they were logical and had their place in the novel… after all, even a hero’s life can’t be all emotional roller-coasters and constant explosions. The story truly gets fascinating when we arrive at the part where he makes the half-promise of killing the man, not knowing himself what to do or how to go about it. Whether or not you expect the final resolution, I feel confident in saying it fits the story perfectly, closing the show in a very satisfying way.
The Gravity of Death
All too often death in novels doesn’t feel like it’s portrayed with the appropriate gravity, its presence swiftly swept away without a second thought. In this story we get to witness the contrary with the important and profound consequences taking a single life can have for everyone involved. We never lose focus of the burden Michael must untangle, and we’re coming along with him for the whole ride, and I feel Ellsworth’s prowess really shines in this aspect. He works wonders in making us empathize with Michael, putting us in his shoes and truly driving home the terrible spiritual discomfort which comes along with being stuck between a rock and a hard place.
While the plot does focus on Michael’s dilemma in large part, Ellsworth never loses sight of the supporting the characters, the people who influence and mould him as much as his tenuous confrontation with death. I find it commendable for Ellsworth to achieve a notable level of depth in his development of the surrounding cast without any fluff or wordy descriptions; the people are largely developed through their actions, dialogues and others’ opinions on them. Ultimately we see true character development out of Michael from start to finish as he grapples with his own sense of identity resolves the events which will shape him for the rest of his days, in turn providing interesting perspectives on the future books in the series.
The Final Verdict
With all being said and done, Lies She Never Told Me is an engaging thriller in a historical setting delving into the life of a fascinating character as he must struggle to make some crucial decisions which will change his life one way or the other. The plot itself is as interesting as the exploration of Michael Gresham’s heritage and early biography, having its fair share of twists to keep us on our toes during the slower and more deliberate segments. I highly recommend it if you enjoy historical thrillers in any capacity and want to see what John Ellsworth is all about.
John Ellsworth is an American author from Phoenix, Arizona who was previously a trial case lawyer before giving himself fully to writing. His considerable experience in trying murder cases has paid off rather visibly in his writings, often being centred around the law and those who uphold it. Some of his better-known works include The Law Partners, The Lawyer and 30 Days of Justis.