Review: “What Lies Below,” Mark Lukens

Pros: Plot is interesting
Cons: Characters aren’t very interesting; small plot holes here and there
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

What Lies Below, by Mark Lukens, is about Pam and her eight-year-old daughter Sarah. Pam’s psychiatrist insists that she needs to visit her estranged father before he dies (he’s currently bed-ridden and has a full-time nurse helping him). Pam doesn’t think it’s such a great idea, but acquiesces after her father calls her to say her mother (who left them years ago) was back. Or maybe he didn’t place the call–certainly his nurse says he didn’t. In which case, is it a haunting? Or one of Pam’s strange dreams, which sometimes merge with reality a bit? And what hidden memories will rise to the surface of her mind if she returns to her family home?


None of the characters are particularly likable, and only Pam has any real depth. Part of that is due to the fact that this is more of a novella-length piece than a novel. Most of it is due to the fact that any time the author delves into the internal thoughts of his characters, they come out stilted and awkward. His skills in narrative are better, so he’d be better off showing rather than using character thoughts to tell us directly. Also, there are some stupid and/or unexplained actions that I never understood. (Why on earth would Pam not keep the safe key she found rather than re-hiding it where it had always been?)

Pam’s father was a well-known psychiatric researcher, and he seems to have specialized in hypnosis. While that does seem like an easy answer to everything, there are a couple of other incidents that were never explained. (How exactly did those muddy Barbie dolls get in her bed, anyway, and how did the dolls (but not the mud) disappear after that?)

On the one hand, I don’t want to talk about much of what happens in this book, because at its length it’s hard to avoid spoilers. On the other hand, much of the plot is very predictable once the main cards are on the table. It’s an interesting story, but not particularly attention-grabbing. While the ending does help to make up for some of the rest of the book, it, too, asks more questions than it answers.

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