Brandon Massey has been laboring quietly for the past decade or so in the supernatural and horror literary genres --- working in what author Marcus Wynne so aptly describes as the grammar mine --- without gaining the recognition that is arguably his due.
DON'T EVER TELL --- touted as his breakout novel --- has everything you could reasonably expect in a thriller. It begins with a particularly brutal prison breakout involving Dexter Bates, a former police officer serving a 10-year sentence for attempted murder. Massey drops rotten and unforgettable little breadcrumbs about Bates's character and emotional state throughout the book. The one thing that is clear from the beginning is that prison, as might be expected, has not mellowed him.
Rachel Moore, the object of Bates's attempt at murder, is living happily in Atlanta, Georgia. She is recently married to a first-class if somewhat self-consciously clumsy guy named Joshua who loves her dearly, is newly and happily pregnant, and has a successful hairstyling business. Her life is a dream; the only problem is those lousy nightmares, inspired by her prior marriage to the aforementioned Dexter when she was living in Chicago and her name was Joy Bates. Dexter's escape from business is motivated primarily by revenge against Joy, who pressed charges against him for trying to kill her and divorced him while he was languishing behind bars. These feelings turn to rage, however, when he finds out that his considerable money stash, which was supposed to see him through his post-incarceration, is missing.
Dexter goes on a killing spree, determined to obliterate anyone who has ever meant anything to Joy and to discover where (and who) she is. When Joy --- now Rachel --- learns of Dexter's escape and rampage, she abruptly abandons Joshua and goes into hiding, leaving him devastated and blindsided. Joshua's passivity is about to come to an end, though, as he's willing to do whatever is necessary to save not only his family but also himself. As the final drama is played out in the quietly exotic locale of one of Georgia's barrier islands, a mortally dangerous, seemingly unstoppable force collides with two people whose greatest strengths are their love for and faith in each other.
Brandon Massey gets everything just right in DON'T EVER TELL --- from Joshua's true-to-type friends to Dexter's psychotic reactions. While it's not a horror novel, his prior experience in the genre holds him in good stead here; he hits notes of terror that he has never hit before. Anyone who has ever been involved with a woman who had a crazy boyfriend in her past and had to face the guy down will recognize Dexter from the jump and will be all the more chilled by doing so. The real star in Massey's universe, however, is his pacing, which is first rate from opening sentence to final paragraph. Breakout novel? You bet. And then some.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 1, 2008
Don't Ever Tell