Sixteen-year-old Julia Whitmire appeared to have everything: a famous father, a luxurious Manhattan town house, a coveted spot at the elite Casden prep school. When she is found dead in her bathtub, a handwritten suicide note left on her bed, her parents insist that their daughter would never take her own life.
But Julia’s enviable world was more complicated than it seemed. The pressure to excel at Casden was enormous. Abuse of prescription antidepressants and ADHD medication ran rampant among students; an unlabeled bottle of pills in Julia’s purse suggests she had succumbed to the trend. And a search of Julia’s computer reveals that in the days leading up to her death she was engaged in a dangerous game of cyberbullying against an unlikely victim.
NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher is convinced the case is a suicide, but she knows from personal experience that a loving family can be the last to accept the truth. When the Whitmires use their power to force a criminal investigation, Ellie’s resistance causes trouble for her both at work and in her personal life. As she is pressured to pursue a case she doesn’t believe in, she is pulled into Julia’s inner circle—an eclectic mix of overly precocious teenagers from Manhattan’s most privileged families as well as street kids from Greenwich Village. But when the target of Julia’s harassment continues to receive death threats, Ellie is forced to acknowledge that Julia may have learned the hard way that some secrets should never be told.”
Thoughts: In many ways, Alafair Burke’s Never Tell is a lot like the television series Law and Order and its many spin-offs. There is a crime that is duplicitous in its simplicity. The police assign the case to a familiar detective pairing. The detectives are sent down many different avenues in their investigation, forcing them to reassess the facts gathered multiple times. There is tension as the two detectives disagree about certain aspects of the case, and they anger key players along the way. Ultimately, the detectives find the right path and solve the mystery, allowing the victim’s family the chance for justice and closure. It is a formula that works exceedingly well, as seen by how success the series is and how often it has been copied in print and on the big and small screens alike. Much like individual Law and Order episodes though, without something truly unexpected – a completely unforeseen plot twist, a nefarious and ultimately memorable villain, a death of one of the heroes – such stories are easily read and easily forgotten. Never Tell falls into this latter category.
While any death, especially of a child, is tragic, Julia is not the most sympathetic of victims. The phrase “overly precocious teenagers from Manhattan’s most privileged families” is a major clue as to what to expect from the cast of characters. Rich, spoiled teenagers who believe that they are too worldly and knowledgeable compared to everyone else, especially adults not in their milieu, is a common plot device – almost too common as these types of teens have lost their edge or ability to shock. Julia and her antics, as discovered through the investigative process, is nothing more than a clichéd rich teen harboring a major secret. It begs the question – are there any teenagers who do not have some sort of secret life about which the adults are clueless?
It is not that Never Tell is a bad murder mystery. Again, the comparison to Law and Order is apt. The series is popular for a reason; it fulfills that basic human prurience that makes reality shows so successful. Yet, after so many seasons, it is nigh impossible to distinguish among the individual episodes. It contains all of the elements that make such novels compelling. The issue lies with the fact that there is nothing about Never Tell that allows it to rise above of the rest of its genre. It is too easy to forget major plot points or confuse it with other similar novels. Enjoyable and yet utterly forgettable, Never Tell is best left to true fans of the genre.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to HarperCollins for my review copy!