Mystery stories are always a bit of a mixed bag for me. Very few of them manage to walk the fine line between having a legitimately intriguing and mind provoking mystery while providing enough clues and answers to keep audiences engaged and confused about the ultimate answer without insulting readers or viewers. Thankfully, Lying in the Deep by Diana Urban manages to traverse that tightrope without falling.
The story has a pretty standard Young Adult plotline. Jade Miller is a scholarship student in college who had a near perfect life. She had a star athlete boyfriend, Silas, a rich, sophisticated bestie, Lainey, and was on track with her plan for a successful life post graduation. At least, that was the plan until Lainey and Silas got together over a break and ended any and all contact with Jade after sending a text and message ending the relationships. Unsurprisingly, Jade is confused and heartbroken over the betrayal and loss of her best friend and boyfriend.
However, this unexpected turn does not deter her from attending a Semester at Sea program through her college that she was supposed to go to with Lainey. Upon arriving, Jade discovers that her former roommate and paramour had similar plans as she finds they are also in attendance. She does manage to meet some interesting new people as well like burgeoning beauty and travel blogger, Miguel, dynamic twins, Navya and Divya, and brooding potential rebound, Felix. Unfortunately, the summer touring various countries and sights and forgetting about her past problems is still now gone as Jade has to deal with being reminded of the budding romance between her pal and beau. Furthermore, it seems as though someone has spread rumors and falsehoods over the events that led to her breakups. Still, the situation cannot get much worse, right?
In case it wasn’t obvious, the situation gets much worse as students begin to drop like flies. This is after a few threats made, secrets exposed, pasts uncovered, and questionable acts begin to occur. As if that wasn’t enough, Jade has become the prime suspect for the many, many crimes happening on the trip. Of course, she knows she is innocent, but will have to make peace with her past and trust a few strangers to have a chance of clearing her name.
Not going to spoil the story here. Though I will say the final answer/solution to the mystery did catch me off guard, but was not completely out of the blue or a random McGuffin to seem smarter than the audience. As well, while there were elements that alluded to potential social criticisms and issues, they were mostly set dressing and were not delved into too deeply. They were still intelligently used to justify character choices, actions, and arcs for several figures throughout the story. Plus, the side characters and their secondary, supporting stories were compelling and added layers to the central mystery and narrative. And not just as potential red herrings either. More importantly, for all the ways the young characters could have ended up as clichés or simplistic tropes, they managed to have a sense of realism and legitimacy that a lot of teenage protagonists and characters do not in other similar works.
Overall, the book was a quick, easy, and engaging read that had just enough mystery to fuel a desire to finish the next chapter over going to bed on time. So much so that completing the entire book was a matter of a few hours over two to three days, but your mileage may vary.