Alafair Burke returns to the world of NYPD homicide detective Ellie Hatcher with NEVER TELL, following her excellent stand-alone novel, LONG GONE. Fans will find this fourth offering to be well worth the wait in every way.
"There is room to question if Hatcher does the right thing at the end --- I feel that she did, but reasonable minds could differ --- and the result will leave the reader thinking about this book long after the last page has been turned."
Burke juggles numerous plates here. First and foremost, the book consists of a number of primary and secondary mysteries. The major one consists of the death of 16-year-old Julia Whitmire, who is found dead in her bathtub with a handwritten suicide note left in her bedroom. Julia had it all, not the least of which was residence in a Manhattan Town Home and a desk in an elite --- and elitist --- prep school. Her father was also almost as well-known as the rock stars with whom he worked and frequently partied. These elements might have been fodder for “First World problem” jokes, but to her parents, the death of their daughter is all too real. So it is that Katherine Whitmire, Julia’s mother, insists that her child did not commit suicide. Hatcher is quick to conclude that Julia’s death was precisely that, and nothing more complicated.
Yet a bit of further digging --- prompted by the Whitmires’ pressure on Hatcher’s department --- uncovers additional and unexpected elements. Julia was under enormous pressure to excel at school and appeared to have been abusing prescription drugs. She was also not entirely the daughter her parents believed her to be. It appears that she was engaged in cyberbullying someone who was supposedly quite close to her. Further, Julia was engaged in some very dangerous games with men who on the surface would be unavailable to her.
As Hatcher and her detective partner (the more seasoned and taciturn J.J. Rogan) go through the process of ruling out suspects, they encounter an interesting group and mix of personalities --- from a street kid who is hiding a secret beneath an exuberant demeanor to the protective headmistress of Julia’s school and the psychiatrist who was treating Julia and some of her friends. And therein is another area where this book really shines. Burke’s sharp portrayal of characters, both recurring and otherwise, defies stereotype and predictability. This arguably applies most accurately with respect to Hatcher herself, who makes a significant error near the beginning of the book but quickly recovers from it while pursuing the case with renewed tenaciousness.
As Hatcher makes her way through the varied list of suspects, she uncovers a number of underlying secrets, some of which lead her to a resolution of the issue of Julia’s death and others of which reveal that there is even more than the death of a young woman to be reckoned with. Before the story concludes, Hatcher must make a choice as to not only whether but also how justice ultimately will be served.
NEVER TELL is perhaps Burke’s most ambitious and complex novel to date, yet it’s also her most readable. One comes away feeling unsettled to a certain degree, and not just because of Julia’s death. There is room to question if Hatcher does the right thing at the end --- I feel that she did, but reasonable minds could differ --- and the result will leave the reader thinking about this book long after the last page has been turned.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 22, 2012