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First Lie Wins
(Review, Summary & Spoilers)

By Ashley Elston

Book review and synopsis for First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston, a thriller about a woman with a fake name and secret job whose identity is wrapped up in a web of lies.


In First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston, Evelyn Porter is a woman who has just moved in with her doting, successful boyfriend, Ryan. Except that Evelyn Porter doesn't really exist and Ryan is an assignment she was given from her mysterious employer.

Her whole identity is a lie by design, and she needs to keep it that way to get the job done. However, Evelyn's real past and real identity seem to have caught up with her in this town, and she finds herself developing real feelings for Ryan.

In this fast-paced thriller, Evelyn needs to find a way to keep her past at bay and stay one step ahead of everyone else...

(The Full Plot Summary is also available, below)

Full Plot Summary

Section-by-Section Summary
See the Section-by-Section Summary of First Lie Wins
Quick Plot Summary

The one-paragraph summary is that Evelyn is a woman who is working as a secret agent for a mysterious guy by the name of Mr. Smith. She develops feelings for her current "mark", Ryan, but during the job, she realizes Mr. Smith has turned on her and is trying to get her arrested or worse, and Ryan might be involved. She thinks it's because of a previous assignment where she failed to retrieve some blackmail materials from someone named Amy Holder. She manages to turn the tables on Mr. Smith, and it's revealed that she has been working with Amy Holder to get rid of Mr. Smith. In the end, Evelyn and Ryan reconcile, and Evelyn and Amy (along with another trusted associate, Devon) take over Mr. Smith's illicit business.

In Chapters 1 - 11, Evelyn Porter and Ryan Sumner are a new couple moving in together. Ryan Sumner is professionally successful and has recently inherited his grandfather's house and a sizeable inheritance. Evelyn is from a small town and never graduated from high school ... but that's not her real identity. As she gets ready to move into his place, she sets up an apartment to make Ryan think she's been living there and is just now moving out, but it's just for show. At a party with his friends, Evelyn meets a woman who looks the way she used to look, named "Lucca Marino" (which is Evelyn's real name) and whose background is the same as Evelyn's actual background. Imposter Lucca is visiting town with James Bernard, an old friend of Ryan's.

Evelyn works for a mysterious person known only to her as Mr. Smith. Her current target is Ryan. Ryan is a runs a branch of a brokerage firm, but he also has a side business that his family originally started as a legitimate trucking business, Glenview Trucking, that now deals in serving as a middle-man in procuring illegal goods. Mr. Smith has instructed Evelyn to dig up and turn over any records relating to Glenview Trucking, including financial information and client lists.

In a series of flashbacks, it's shown that Evelyn/Lucca began stealing jewelry to help pay for medical expenses after her mother was diagnosed with cancer. She eventually moved up to stealing higher-value items and caught the eye of Mr. Smith, who recruited her to come work for her 8 years ago. She's been working for him ever since, doing various covert jobs like retrieving blackmail materials and taking on a variety of identities in the process.

In Chapters 12 - 16, In present day, Imposter Lucca and James turn up dead in a car wreck after having dinner with Evelyn and Ryan. The police begin looking into Evelyn and Ryan because of this, taking a particular interest in Evelyn. Meanwhile, Evelyn confirms her suspicions that Imposter Lucca was sent by Mr. Smith. When the police end up with a host of evidence linking her to the death of her previous target, Amy Holder, Evelyn knows Mr. Smith is up to something. Evelyn is arrested.

Evelyn's last job was in Atlanta and involved retrieving blackmail materials on a man named Victor Connelly that were in the possession of Amy Holder. Victor Connelly is a dangerous man who is part of a well-connected crime family. However, the job was a failure. Evelyn was unable to find anything, and Amy Holder died in a fire.

In a series of flashbacks, more of Evelyn's work history is revealed. Six years ago under the identity of Mia Bianchi, she was assigned to get close to and find dirt on Andrew Marshall. However, Andrew was totally clean, and they developed a trusting professional relationship. Instead, Evelyn/Mia used the opportunity to entrap a number of powerful men around him into compromising positions with women and collected those images for future use, referring to the incident as "Hilton Head 2017". Evelyn has a trusted associated named Devon, who does not work for Mr. Smith, that she often relies on for help. She's has also built a friendship over time with George, who also works for Mr. Smith and is occasionally assigned tasks on the same jobs she is on.

In Chapters 17 - 20, in present day, Evelyn uses the incriminating photos from Hilton Head 2017 to blackmail a local judge into arranging to have her released from police custody for the time being. However, the authorities in Atlanta still want to question her. She and Ryan begin making their way to Atlanta, with him promising to support her through this. By now, Evelyn has deduced that Mr. Smith still believes she is withholding the blackmail materials from the Victor Connelly/Amy Holder assignment instead of turning them over, even though she insists there wasn't any. She rented a safety deposit box shortly before Amy's death that has aroused his suspicions, and Mr. Smith is demanding to see its contents.

In a flashback, Evelyn recalls a previous assignment as Wendy Wallace. She was assigned to get the head coach of a major football program in central Florida, Mitch Cameron, let go from his job, but without financial or public blowback. In the process, Evelyn realized that Mitch was likely the client for that job and that he was the one who wanted to get out of his own contract. It's the one job she's done where Evelyn felt sure of who the real client was.

In present day, Evelyn (as Wendy) reaches out to Mitch demanding money, which angers him. She knows it'll prompt him to reach out to Mr. Smith, which he does. Evelyn and Devon use this opportunity to begin trying to track down Mr. Smith to try to discover his real identity.

In Chapters 20 - 24, Evelyn plan seems on track, but she soon discovers to her great concern that Ryan and George seem to know each other well somehow and are working together. She looks into his things and finds materials that she had delivered to Mr. Smith. She realizes that maybe Ryan is Mr. Smith. Devon soon sends her the info that he tracked down about Mr. Smith and his real identity.

In a flashback, she recalls the Amy Holder/Victor Connelly assignment where she used the alias Regina Hale. While Evelyn/Regina worked the job, Amy had revealed that her blackmail materials were actually about Mr. Smith, not Victor Connelly. Evelyn/Regina ended up confronting Amy in her hotel room, but there was a fire. Mr. Smith inquires about anything Amy might've had about him personally, but Evelyn/Regina reports back to Mr. Smith that she wasn't able to recover anything from the fire and didn't get anything about him or Victor Connelly from Amy.

In present day, Evelyn meets with the detectives in Atlanta. They confront with evidence tying her likeness to the Amy Holder death, but Evelyn tells them it's not her. She says the woman linked to Amy Holder is Lucca Marino, who she happens to resemble. (She's basically claiming that Impostor Lucca is the real Lucca and is the one responsible for the Amy Holder crime, not her.)

In Chapters 25 - 26, George forces Evelyn to go and show him the contents of her safety deposit box, the one she'd rented just before Amy Holder's death. She confronts George about being Mr. Smith and that his real name actually is Christopher Smith. (It's revealed that Devon's information actually confirmed that George is Mr. Smith, not Ryan.) She says that she'd been planning on betraying him ever since the "Tate job".

It's revealed that the materials Amy Holder had actually showed that Mr. Smith had been double crossing Victor Connelly for years. When George/Mr. Smith exits the bank, Victor and his associates are waiting to take him away and confront him. (It's assumed Mr. Smith will be killed.) Meanwhile, Evelyn leaves and goes to meet up with Amy Holder, who is revealed to be alive and well.

In a flashback, she recalls what happened after Tate job, a job where she'd been asked to steal a painting that turned out to be bizarrely complex. Evelyn had figured out that the job was a test Mr. Smith set up to test the people working for him. With Devon's help, they'd managed to figure out everyone who had attempted the test and learned that almost all of them were dead. Presumably, they failed and were killed by Mr. Smith. The only ones who were still alive were Evelyn and Amy Holder. Realizing he couldn't be trusted, Evelyn had then gone to Amy and convinced her they needed to get rid of Mr. Smith before he turned around at some point and decided to get rid of them.

(In other words, Evelyn knew Amy Holder even before the Victor Connelly job. The whole thing was a long con to eventually get rid of Mr. Smith.)

The book ends with Evelyn reconciling with Ryan, with them coming clean about each other their illicit activities and being together knowing who the other person really is. Meanwhile, Evelyn, Amy and Devon take over Mr. Smith's business with him out of the way.

For more detail, see the full Section-by-Section Summary.

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Book Review

First Lie Wins by Ashley Elston is a thriller about a mysterious woman with a fake identity who is trying to stay one step ahead when she realizes there’s something suspicious going on that she’s involved in. This was also Reese’s Book Club Pick for January.

First Lie Wins is a little bit more cloak-and-dagger than I was expecting. With the weather around here still being pretty overcast and kind of gross, I’ve continued to be a mystery-thriller kind of mood. This was…decidedly not that. I sort of skimmed over the book’s synopsis before reading it, but didn’t really grasp the premise before diving in. I definitely did not realize this was going to go full-on covert ops, which it absolutely is. I thought this was going to be more of a psychological thriller where people mess with each other’s heads than a I’m-going-to-break-all-your-fingers-and-blackmail-you-type thriller.

The main character, Evelyn, works for a mysterious person doing covert, questionable “jobs” like retrieving blackmail materials. Her current target is Ryan, who has now become her “boyfriend”, and it’s soon revealed that there seems to be more to him than initially meets the eye.

The plot progresses along smoothly, interspersed with flashbacks revealing more of Evelyn’s history, her relationship with her employer, and descriptions of various secret assignments she’s completed along the way. There’s a wide variety of secretive operations and clandestine assignments and coded messages at every turn.

When the book starts, it sounds like trying to hide her covert life from her boyfriend and his friends is going to be a major aspect of the plot, but that pretty much gets dispensed with once the story gets underway. Her boyfriend sort of just accepts that he had no idea who she really was pretty readily, and the friends thing is a non-issue. Instead, First Lie Wins is primarily about a female agent trying to one-up someone who is complicating her plans.

I think as far as thrillers go, this one is well done with plenty of fun plotting and excitement. That said, there’s a stretch in the middle where a lot of stuff is happening, but my interest started to wane a little — there was a lot of generic thriller stuff and an onslaught of information needed to set up whatever plan Evelyn has in store. The real plot twists don’t really start happening until towards the end. Maybe I just wasn’t in precisely the right mood for a thriller, but it started to lose me a little. There’s a lot of identities and characters to follow since so much of Evelyn’s past and past jobs come into play.

I definitely wasn’t bored by the book, since there’s plenty going on. I think I was just very aware that this was all setup for a payoff that I’d probably have to wait another hundred pages for.

That all said, the payoff is pretty solid. It didn’t “wow” me, but everything gets tied up, and it’s a satisfying end. I’d go as far as to say that it was worth the wait, and overall this is a well constructed and entertaining thriller.

first lie wins

Read it or Skip it?

I thought First Lie Wins was pretty good. Like, the plot basically makes sense and works and the story is chock-full of secret identities and fun secret agent stuff. It dragged a little in the middle for me, not because nothing was happening, but rather because there was just a lot of names and stuff getting thrown around that was clearly a lot of setup for stuff that would happen later. And to be fair, I’m more of a mystery/suspense person than a thriller person.

First Lie Wins is solidly constructed and well-paced. It’s probably the type of thing I’d rather watch as a movie, but thriller fans should give this one a look.

See First Lie Wins on Amazon

first lie wins

First Lie Wins Audiobook

Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld
Length: 9 hours 16 minutes

Hear a sample of the First Lie Wins audiobook on

Book Excerpt

Read the first pages of First Lie Wins

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