Things certainly seem pretty black-and-white to NYPD Detective Ellie Hatcher when she and her partner are sent out on a death call to a luxurious Manhattan townhouse. Empty wine bottle on the floor in the bathroom? Check. Prescription pill bottle? Check. Handwritten note on the bed? Check. Dead teenager in the tub with a slit wrist? Check. Suicide? Check. On to lunch, right? Wrong.
Not when the dead teenager is sixteen-year-old Julia Whitmire, daughter of fabulously wealthy and famous music producer Bill Whitmire. And certainly not when the dead girl’s mother is adamant her daughter would never have killed herself and isn’t shy about using the family’s name and money to force an investigation into what Hatcher sees as an obvious suicide.
A funny thing happens on the way to closing that slam dunk suicide case, however, when Hatcher’s reluctant investigation begins turning up more questions than answers. Why had Julia become withdrawn in the weeks leading up to her death, hiding things even from her best friend Ramona, someone she’d been close to since grade school? What exactly is going on at the exclusive prep school Julia attended, a place where everyone seems to have something to hide? Why was Julia visiting a blog written anonymously by someone claiming to be a survivor of sexual abuse, and is there some connection between her death and threatening comments being left on the blog?
Author Alafair Burke has devised a real labyrinth of a mystery in Never Tell, the fourth entry in the Ellie Hatcher series. For every answer Hatcher comes up with two more questions are raised, and every time the reader thinks he finally has a handle how things are panning out Burke throws a massive monkey wrench into the works. Complicating matters beyond even the actual events at hand is the personal baggage Hatcher brings to the table having dealt with a “Was it a suicide or murder?” in her own family, a case which left a lasting emotional scar on her and clouds the lens through which she views the current investigation.
And that is where the Ellie Hatcher series excels, in presenting the lead as a strong but believably flawed character. As we all were, Hatcher was shaped by events in her past, and is continually and unavoidably influenced by them. Sometimes that works to her advantage, other times not so much. Yet while she allows Hatcher to struggle with her instinct vs. her intellect, Burke never overdoes it. Hatcher’s actions, while at times shortsighted and questionable, never stray into territory that is outright unrealistic or unprofessional. In fact, professionalism is another area where the series excels, as Burke brings her substantial credentials as an attorney and criminal law professor to bear to ensure both the police and the prosecutors get it right.
Fans of Alafair Burke’s writing will find Never Tell to be another outstanding outing for both the author and her lead. And if you’ve not previously read any of Burke’s writing now is the perfect time to jump in. Though part of a series, Never Tell is a self-contianed mystery and any information you need about Hatcher’s past is seamlessly worked into the story.
Never Tell is available from Harper (ISBN: 978-0061999161).
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