Book Review: Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon
Forty-one-year-old school nurse Kate Cypher has returned home to rural Vermont to care for her mother who’s afflicted with Alzheimer’s. On the night she arrives, a young girl is murdered—a horrific crime that eerily mirrors another from Kate’s childhood. Three decades earlier, her dirt-poor friend Del—shunned and derided by classmates as “Potato Girl”—was brutally slain. Del’s killer was never found, while the victim has since achieved immortality in local legends and ghost stories. Now, as this new murder investigation draws Kate irresistibly in, her past and present collide in terrifying, unexpected ways. Because nothing is quite what it seems . . . and the grim specters of her youth are far from forgotten.
More than just a murder mystery, Jennifer McMahon’s extraordinary debut novel, Promise Not to Tell, is a story of friendship and family, devotion and betrayal—tautly written, deeply insightful, beautifully evocative, and utterly unforgettable.
I found a new favorite author. This is kind of huge for me, because there are a lot of books I love, but very few times I read a book and think: I need to read every book this author has written. I’m thinking that right now. I’m adding this book to my favorites list on Shelfari right now,before I even finish writing this review, and putting all of Jennifer McMahon’s other books on my to-read list. It should be no surprise that I HIGHLY recommend this book.
What I Liked
Speaking of the writing itself, it’s simple without being juvenile. It’s not so much what is said or how things are said, because you don’t notice that. It’s more about the story the words tell, while the words themselves become invisible. The prose never gets in the way. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy beautiful prose, but there is something to be said about writing that immediately melts away so that all you see is the characters and the story. That is something Jennifer has achieved here.
I really enjoyed the way the author switched between the past and the present in this story. It was neat to have those two storylines, and how they came together in the end, and this really kept the suspense flowing as I read. I was always eager to read ONE MORE CHAPTER to learn a few more answers, but every time I did that new questions arose.
I absolutely adored all the characters in this story. They were sincere, real, flawed, intriguing,eccentric. The New Hope hippie camp was charming; Del aka the Potato Girl was mysterious; Opal was fun-loving and quirky; Kate has a good heart but perhaps in some ways was more flawed than them all. I was fascinated by Kate’s mom. Really, the whole “cast” was brilliant. EVERYONE had their secrets, and this story just felt so honest.
As, as with any good mystery (and I imagine this is hard to pull off) Jennifer had me suspecting everyone of Del’s murder. Certainly there were plenty of people with motive. I was guessing until the very end!
Also, yes, I’m a HUGE sucker for paranormal elements, and this mystery is PACKED with ghosts and urban legends. Kate makes a fantastic skeptical character without coming across as stupid or naive. And, finally, I think this book is a great example of how a character can withhold information, even in first person, without it being awkward or seeming like a gimmick. Kate revealed this and withheld things in a way that seemed sincere and natural. 99% of the time I see this attempted in fiction it feels like forced, contrived suspense to me, but I didn’t feel that way here. When I see author’s achieve things like this, I just can’t help but think, “they must be a genius”. Seriously, Jennifer proved to be that brilliant.
It’s worth noting that I DEVOURED this book in less than 24 hours. My “Books I’ve Read In One Day” list isn’t a long one. It means that I basically put my life on hold to read because the book is so good I just can’t help myself. That happened here.
What I Didn’t Like
I was just a tiny, tiny, tiny bit disappointed with the outcome. I didn’t get enough motive for the actual killer, and was hoping for someone lower on my suspect list or someone who would have made bigger ripples to be the guilty party. I was glad I predicted some details, had this person been the murderer, but I wanted more of a story behind the person’s actions. Maybe I just wanted too many things to “tie together”.
My only lingering question (maybe I missed this) is: Who killed Magpie and why?
Also, this is neither here nor there, but I didn’t love the epilogue being in Opal’s POV, though the prologue being in her POV was effective for me.
I can’t say enough good things about this book. Rarely do I get all fan-girl about a book or author, but this book did it for me. I’m officially hopelessly addicted to Jennifer McMahon’s stories. It maybe a little to soon to say that, since I’ve only read one of her books, but sometimes an author just does such an amazing job that you KNOW you will be a fan for life. If that changes, I’ll let you know, but this book was nothing short of brilliant, and I am extremely looking forward to purchasing another book by this author.
Rebecca Hamilton writes Paranormal Fantasy, Gothic Horror, and Literary Fiction. She is represented by the ever-more-amazing Rossano Trentin of TZLA.
To purchase her books, please visit Paranormal Fantasy Books.