Sunday, March 3, 2019

Secrets kept? Perhaps...but at what cost?

Secrets are rarely a good idea, are they?!?
Though I guess it depends what the actual secret is and the context, doesn't it?
I admit to being a bit more enamored with this book than McManus's debut, One of Us Is Lying, mainly due to the different story arcs.
(And...neither cover is appealing to me for some reason.)
Though both mysteries are a bit creepy (for me, at least), 
they are both, in my opinion, extremely well-written,
particularly with regard to characterization, especially 
this second book. I loved Ellery and Ezra! (And what cool names!) 
My suspicions kept bouncing around to virtually all characters
at one time or another as I read. (I love that about mysteries!) 
And in the end, I didn't fully realize the solution 
until Ellery and Ezra did! Of course, by then it was a bit too late, 
at least for their own safety.

While I typically have no qualms including spoilers in my reviews, I definitely will not do so for this book. But if you love mysteries or thrillers, I would highly recommend this book. 
It is, in my opinion, a psychological thriller.

McManus is now one of my favorite writers! 

I fully appreciate the fact that one of the protagonists, Ezra, is a teenage male who happens to be gay. It is simply part of this character's background. Very big deal...that's just how it is. I'm glad that literature/novels can simply reflect the diversity of humanity. Ezra is the male portion of a set of fraternal twins, along with his sister, Ellery, who tends to be very analytical, always looking for connections, or as several characters say, creating "conspiracy theories." She has always been extremely interested in the seemingly inexplicable and sudden disappearance of her aunt, her mother's identical twin sister at the age of 17. And since her mother is now in residential rehab for challenges with addiction, she and Ezra are  forced to move in with their maternal grandmother in the small town where her mother and aunt grew up, Echo Ridge. 

Fortunately for Sadie, their mother, although she drove through and destroyed a store front, the judge overseeing her case believes in "treatment" rather than jail time. Hence their grandmother is paying for Sadie's rehabilitation treatment and also raising her grandchildren until their mother can hopefully return to daily life and resume responsibility for them. Sadie was a rather unsuccessful actress near Hollywood in California and the twins have lived in some fairly undesirable apartments and neighborhoods throughout their lifetime, so Echo Ridge is 'pastoral' by comparison and their grandmother's house is large with more-than-enough room to live comfortably. 

However, on the drive to Echo Ridge from the airport, they encounter a hit-and-run victim in the road who is already dead. He would have been Ellery and Ezra's high school teacher had he lived. No one can unravel the mystery of his death until Brooke is drunk one night and behaves in such a way as to inadvertently initiate an investigation by Ellery which eventually leads to her and the police identifying the killer. I could appreciate Mr Bowman's epitaph on his tombstone:
Tell me and I forget
Teach me and I may remember
Involve me and I learn (49)
So very true! 

Having lived in small towns, or rural/"country" areas outside of small towns, I felt McManus's descriptions of the interactions and immediate spreading of news, rumors, and gossip, were spot on. The older I get the less I can bear the pettiness that results from such a social environment. I guess I should pity those who have nothing better to do with their lives than 'spy' on friends, neighbors, and enemies, and then talk about everyone behind their backs. My mother was a champion at that, so perhaps that helps explain my disgust with such behaviors. It is harmful. No matter how a person may justify it, it can do so much harm to innocent and even not-so-innocent people. My motto has always been, "If they're talking about me, at least they're leaving some other poor innocent person alone..." :)

Ellery perfectly describes her role as peacemaker and "positive communicator" with her mother as they begin a telephone conversation:
I could refuse to play along, I guess. But as my eye catches the photo of her and her sister on my bookcase, I already feel myself wanting to please her. To smooth things over and make her smile. 
I've been doing it my entire life; it's impossible to stop now. (36)
So many times this is exactly how it is with children of parents with erratic personalities and other challenges, especially addiction. They, in effect, attempt to not only serve as parents to themselves, but also to 'parent' their own parents! They never get to be children! Another telling scene is Ellery's relief and pleasure when her grandmother encourages her to consider where she might like to attend college and to schedule her SAT exams. When she describes her lack of interest in the past due to financial insecurity, her grandmother assures Ellery that she will help her. I appreciated how this opened up all new avenues of possibilities and hope for a better future for Ellery and Ezra. 

One of Ellery and Ezra's Echo Ridge friends is Malcolm, brother of Declan, former Homecoming King, and boyfriend of the Homecoming Queen who was murdered in Echo about 5 years the age of 17. Unfortunately, he was the main suspect and appears to still manage to be at the wrong place at the wrong time...therefore, when Malcolm is the last person to see Brooke alive, it appears he may well be carrying on a frightening 'family tradition as suspect number one', just as Declan was in the past. Brooke was on the Homecoming Court and may have become Homecoming Queen herself, had she not disappeared in the 2 weeks prior to the Echo Ridge Homecoming weekend. Malcolm has always resented the fact that Declan was able to simply move away from Echo Ridge and didn't have to continue to deal with the town gossip and rumor mill about himself. Although once Declan returns and connects with his little brother, Malcolm realizes that "Declan's life is a lot shitter up close than it seems from a state away." Declan's move to another location certanly didn't solve all his problems. 

Ellery becomes obsessed with her desire to "do something. For the missing girls, and the ones left behind." It is always a challenge for those left alive to deal in the aftermath of a disappearance or murder. There is a breakthrough in the 'case' when Brooke becomes drunk and states,
I need to get it back. I shouldn't have...I just shouldn't have. 
I have to show them. It's not right, it's not okay. (135)
This is only the beginning of many clues and unanswered questions for Ellery, Ezra, and Malcolm, as they try to solve several different crimes. In the process of investigating, Ellery and Ezra discover the identity of their previously-unknown-to-them biological father, as well as a whole new family of half-siblings. 

There is a missing custom-made bracelet,
a high school class ring at a murder site, 
a receipt for car repairs under a fictitious name, 
and...paper clips.

And you are a better investigator than I if you solve all three of these crimes 
before Ellery and Ezra do...

I highly recommend this book if you like mysteries!
Have you read any good mysteries lately?
Are you anxiously anticipating the release of any new ones?

My message to Ms. McManus: All I ask is that you please keep writing--faster!! :)

Happy reading!