I'll Never Tell

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Release Date: 
June 1, 2019
Lake Union Publishing
Reviewed by: 

“Author Catherine McKenzie has written a riveting closed circle mystery that will put readers in mind of John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie.”

Something had happened to Amanda on that island at summer camp. No one confessed. No one's been charged. But someone knows who did it.

Now 20 years later, the family attorney summons the five MacAllister children back to the family owned summer camp for a reading of the will following their parents' sudden death. The question on everyone's mind: What's going to happen to the camp?

Already there is Sean Booth. He's not a family member, he's the groundskeeper, but as such, he's lived in the lodge most of his life and is emotionally attached to the camp. For those reasons, he especially wants to know what's going to happen to the only home he's ever known.

When Margaux arrives, unenthusiastic about returning, nervous about the inheritance, she snipes at Sean and wants to know what he's doing there. He has to remind her that he lives in the lodge.

Ryan, the only brother, shows up in a brand-new car, stereo blasting, despite the fact that he's in crisis. Failing company, cheating business partner, unhappy wife, almost broke, and resentful that he has to park next Margaux's beat up Acura. Ryan is sorely in need of anger management counseling.

Liddie is an agitator and is already in the lodge, but nobody knows it. She's hiding in the basement where all her life she's listened in to conversations on a phone extension and through a floor grate into the main room. That's how she knows that Ryan, desperate for money, wants to sell the camp. She herself plans to wait and see how the others feel then go along with them. Or maybe she'll be contrary and spoil it for the others just for fun.

Kate, Liddie's twin, fit and trim from a lifetime of competitive sports, has no sense of time and is habitually tardy. She arranged to ride to camp with the attorney, and they arrive together.

Then everyone waits for Mary who is never on time for anything, either. She owns a stable and is busy caring for horses. She doesn't understand how her brother and sisters can be so attached to the camp, and secretly enjoys the thought of them sitting there waiting for her to show up.

Every one of these adult children seethe with animosity, and can barely speak a civil word to each other, or to anyone else for that matter. And when the attorney reads the will, they are shocked to the core at the provisions their parents have attached to it.

While alive, the MacAllister parents were not the typical warm fuzzy kind of people you'd expect would own a children's camp. They lived a hippie-ish life long after everyone else gave it up:

"Her father kept his hair long and in a ponytail and was wearing a T-shirt with Che Guevara on it. Her mom had let her nearly white blonde hair turn actual white and she wore it in one thick long braid that she wrapped around her head like her Swedish milkmaid relatives must've done generations ago. Her clothes were made of natural fibers, which only enhanced her earth-mother vibe. . . . It occurred to Margaux that if she saw them on the news as leaders of some doomsday cult, she wouldn't bat an eye . . . "

Now with everyone assembled, attorney Kevin Swift reveals the contents of the will. As expected, the camp is bequeathed to the children but with one outstanding irrevocable exclusion and condition. Attorney Swift reads the deceased father's words:

"Camp Macaw suffered a terrible tragedy twenty years ago. The police consider it unsolved. . . . Ryan, I believe that you're responsible . . . The police may have cleared you, but they didn't have all the facts . . . "

The will further gives the girls 48 hours to decide about Ryan and if he should get his share. If not, his share transfers to Sean.

After the will is read, the room erupts: "In the jumble of voices, it was hard to make out what anyone was saying, but it wasn't hard to imagine. Mary heard the word outrage more than once. She met Margaux's eyes across the room. She was crying. . . . She'd been close to Amanda . . ."

And so it is left to the sisters to revisit the crime and draw some hard conclusions.

I'll Never Tell writhes with tension and suspense from beginning to end. Each chapter title lets the reader know who is narrating, and the author has thoughtfully included a timeline graph showing who was where when as the backstory unfolds giving the reader a fair chance at figuring out who did what. Also included is a handy two-page map showing the layout of the camp.

The story structure is easy to follow, thanks in part to those timeline graphs, but some may find it an uncomfortable read because of the bickering and hatefulness the characters show toward each other. There is hardly a bit of dialogue from the siblings that isn't nasty, sarcastic, or snarky.

But you don't have to love the characters to love the story. Author Catherine McKenzie has written a riveting closed circle mystery that will put readers in mind of John Dickson Carr and Agatha Christie.