It had been 25 years since 16-year-old Eve Knox had been found, lifeless and hidden within the caves near her home in small-town Grotto, Iowa.
Discovered by her best friend, Maggie, and her sister, Nola, everyone was a suspect in Eve’s murder. But without sufficient evidence, the case went cold.
Since that fateful day, Maggie — now a detective and seven months pregnant — has remained haunted by Eve’s untimely death. But she suddenly finds herself confronted with the past when a new piece of evidence surfaces, and the case is reopened.
It’s a plot thickened with all of the right ingredients for a compelling murder mystery, courtesy of Dubuque-based author Heather Gudenkauf, who has made a name for herself in the genre in recent years.
Her new novel, “This is How I Lied,” was released on May 12.
It’s the latest in a growing list of suspense thrillers from Gudenkauf, beginning with 2009’s “The Weight of Silence,” which propelled her to the best-sellers lists of such prestigious publications as the New York Times and USA Today.
In her lifelong passion and eventual success through the written word several books later, Gudenkauf has continued to call Dubuque home. Along with her husband, three children and “spoiled” German short-haired pointer named Lolo, Gudenkauf juggles daily routines and responsibilities alongside life as a best-selling author.
She also remains fascinated by the world of mystery, coupled with criminal justice and the pivotal role forensic evidence has played in legendary cold cases once thought to be unsolvable, such as the Golden State Killer and the Bear Brook Jane Does.
It’s a fascination that fuels her written work.
“For this book, I wanted the role of advanced DNA testing in solving these decades-old crimes to have a bigger focus,” Gudenkauf said. “That was amazing to me — and to a lot of people, I think, who watch these shows that examine the forensic evidence in old cases — that years later, you could go back with new evidence that had emerged, thanks to technology, and bring a sense of closure to a crime. That was something I had never explored before.”
It adds to an already established series of plot twists for which Gudenkauf is regarded as being an expert craftswoman. And much like her prior works of fiction, there is more at stake than simply untangling a mystery.
The characters who bring the story to life with every flip of the page are complex, with deeper moral dilemmas tugging them every which way. And often, characters and circumstances aren’t always who or what they seem.
“Maggie really carries the story,” Gudenkauf said. “But everyone has a secret that they want to hide.”
The book also is cleverly devised in such a way that the reader can put the pieces together though the compilation of dated entries from different character perspectives, as well as 911 transcripts, therapy transcripts, newspaper clippings and letters to the editor.
The approach in storytelling and depth of research — including selecting small-town Iowa to serve as the backdrop for the tale — has garnered early praise from fellow authors, book reviewers and various publications.
“It was a different approach for me in putting this book together,” Gudenkauf said. “I’m very proud of the result.”
“This is How I Lied” will be available at River Lights Bookstore in Dubuque, as well as through major book retailers and audio.