Lila Bennett is a highly driven, successful criminal defense attorney. But she’s made some bad choices in her life, and they have finally caught up with her.
One of those decisions has split her life in two. Literally.
In one life, she is taken hostage by someone who appears to be a stranger, but knows far too much about Lila’s life and choices. As she’s trapped in a concrete cell, her kidnapper forces her to face what she’s done . . . or be killed.
In an alternate life, Lila eludes her would-be captor. But she’s being hunted by someone intent on destroying her life and stealing her happiness by exposing one secret at a time.
Lila’s career, marriage, and her very life are on the line. She must make a list of those persons she has wronged — in and out of the courtroom — to determine, before it’s too late, who is out to get her.
Even if she can identify her assailant, will she survive? And if she does survive, which parts of her life are worth saving? Which parts must she discard?
Only one thing is certain. Lila’s life, as she’s known it up to now, is over.
Despite all the popular jokes about lawyers, the profession is governed by strict canons of behavior that serve as guidelines. Every situation is unique. Thus, an attorney is required to make his/her own assessment of the circumstances, evaluating all relevant criteria, and then make a decision that is consistent with both the client’s best interests and the ethical principles that underlie the practice of law. Attorneys are expected to be honest at all times, and avoid the appearance of even the possibility of a conflict of interest in his/her handling of a legal matter.
Lila Bennett is aware of the ethical considerations implicated in the practice of criminal defense law. But she hasn’t always adhered to them. She is also well-versed in the moral dilemmas that sometimes arise in personal relationships — marriage, friendship. and interactions with colleagues. In that area of her life, she has made reckless and callous choices.
Lila’s history of questionable and, indeed, outright unethical decision-making is lengthy, dating back to well before she established herself as a successful litigator with a high-powered Los Angeles firm. In fact, were it not for some of those decisions, she would not be enjoying the well-paid career she has established. Now authors Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke place her at a crossroad, examining the life of a woman who has permitted ambition, selfishness, and resentment to cloud her decision-making. The Two Lila Bennetts is a clever and tense thriller in which readers will find a message about how to navigate challenges. The prologue reveals that Lila is blindfolded, restrained, and being held captive. She observes, “[M]y life haunts me,” because as she awaits her fate, she examines “every fork in the road that brought me here.” After all, she notes ironically, you don’t find yourself in such circumstances “if you’ve made the best choices.”
From there, Fenton and Steinke reveal how Lila found herself in her current predicament. However, they craft Lila’s story from two perspectives, employing alternating first-person narratives. Fenton and Steinke place Lila in two kinds of jeopardy. In the second story, she has not been kidnapped, but the life she has constructed is in danger because someone knows her secrets and is determined to reveal them. Thus, in one setting, Lila faces her own mortality. In the other, she stares down the implosion of her marriage, career, and relationships.
Lila acknowledges that she has lived her life as two women — a girl girl and a bad girl reside within her. The bad girl cheers when she makes choices that are at odds with the advice and counsel the good girl gives her. That woman has a strong moral compass and is well aware of the right decisions, but Lila too often succumbs to the temptations dangled in front of her, and then justifies her choices. But at one critical juncture, Lila feels “the chasm become visceral, like my life could split in two — the choices laid at my feet leading me on completely different paths.” She lies to her husband, Ethan, a best-selling author who struggles with depression in the fact of pressure to replicate the success he enjoyed with the publication of his first book. “One lie and a truth. At least that’s what I tell myself. That I’m honest more often than I’m not.” But the bad girl protests. “‘No, you aren’t‘, the voice says.” Lila lies a lot. She has betrayed not only her husband, but her best friends, as well, in the pursuit of her goals and to advance her career. She is not unaware of how despicable her behavior has been, acknowledging that to others “i might be hard to understand — how you can love someone yet still choose to hurt them. How you can be loyal to them in so many ways except the most important one.” She feels she has “compartmentalized” her life in order to rationalize her actions. Does the realization come in time for her to stop behaving in self-destructive and cruel ways? If the truth is revealed, will the people how matter most to Lila be able to forgive her? Can she make amends? Will they let her? Those questions underlie and propel the story forward.
Maybe all we are is a sum of our choices, each one leading us down a different path, each with its own unique outcome.
Fenton and Steinke’s take on a classic premise is contemporary, refreshing, and inventive. As the focus moves between Lila being “Captured” and “Free,” the suspense builds. Who is her captor vs. who knows and is revealing Lila’s darkest secrets? Will she escape with her life vs. can she mitigate the damage and continue practicing law? The pace is unrelenting, the consequences for Lila in the parallel realities palpable. And because of its premise, The Two Lila Bennetts is inherently thought-provoking and empathetic. Everyone has made choices they regret, and wondered what might have happened if they had chosen differently. Robert Frost penned the beloved, classic poem about life choices. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.” Lila learns that her choices have also “made all the difference.” Fenton and Steinke keep readers guessing about the identity of Lila’s tormenters and their motivation, and provide jaw-dropping but fully logical conclusions to both story lines. The result is a compulsively readable, engrossing morality play through which Fenton and Steinke reinforce that “love, loss, and betrayal can make people o the very worst things. things no one believes they’re capable of doing.” Can introspection, atonement, and determination not to repeat past mistakes make a difference? That’s the question to which Lila Bennett finds an answer. But not, of course, without consequences.
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