Saturday, July 21, 2012

Too Many Secrets to Live



Oh, how easy it is to loathe them, those obnoxiously self-important little rich kids... the ones born with tiny silver spoons in their mouths, whose every whim will be catered to by a host of cooks and nannies and household staff... children who have birthday parties that cost several thousand dollars, get whisked off in private jets and chauffeured limos for weekend getaways, and receive haute couture wardrobes and Lamborghinis as gifts once they’re teenagers... and who are always, always secure in the knowledge they’ll never want for anything... not when they’re destined, one day, to run huge companies, command vast fortunes, and otherwise lord over what they consider hoi polloi (that would be you and me, if you’re unsure). Yes, it’s almost ridiculously easy to hate them.
Dredging up any sympathy for those in the throes of teenage angst is, therefore, no easy task. With the world (read “every man-made convenience that makes life better”) at their fingertips, how could they possibly feel that much despair, depression, or unhappiness? 
Well, it turns out they can, and NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher has to try and look past all the excess and entitled attitudes--plus her own preconceived ideas--to solve a case involving the death of a wealthy teenage girl, in Alafair Burke’s latest crime caper, Never Tell.  
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When Ellie and her partner arrive at an ultra-posh Manhattan address to investigate the circumstances surrounding a death, they’re predisposed to tread carefully; anyone who can afford digs in this kind of neighborhood gets the kid-glove treatment. What they aren’t so prepared for is the frantic mother waiting inside, commanding them to solve her daughter’s murder, posthaste. 
What’s odd about that? Nothing... except that the EMTs and local police first on the scene have already determined that Julia Whitmire, the daughter of a record producer mogul, most likely committed suicide. (The handwritten note in her bedroom and the mysterious bottle of pills found in her purse would seem to support their views on the tableau waiting in the adjoining bathroom: an empty wine bottle, a bathtub full of bloody water, and one very dead young girl, a razor floating in the water just below her hand.)  
Although Mrs. Whitmire insists her daughter would’ve done no such thing, Ellie is quick to agree with the first responders’ assessment; if it looks like a suicide, it usually is. The detectives spend a couple more hours questioning the parents, until it’s clear how little they--these parents who had left their sixteen-year-old daughter to live in the huge townhouse all by herself, while they made a home for themselves in the Hamptons--actually knew about their only daughter’s life.
After the angry (and influential) Papa Whitmire makes a few well-placed calls, however, the pressure is on; not only is this case not solved, it’s now Ellie’s top priority.  
Julia’s best friend says she’d been sort of distant recently, but had made a few hints about a secretive affair with an older man. The Greenwich Village street kids the girls liked to hang out with after school (against their parents wishes, of course) seem to have some ideas, too... if the detectives can persuade them to share what they know, and sort the half-truths from the rest. 
Julia was also--like all the other kids she attended the über-elite Casden Day School with--under immense pressure to excel, both by the school and their parents. One of the teachers--in an off-campus tete-a-tete, since the headmistress has expressly forbid contact with the cops--blames the school’s rampant drug use and abuse (particularly prescription ones, like antidepressants and ADHD meds) on that pressure. A Casden student Ellie corners on his way home concurs; the kids there, he insists, aren’t like other kids... and neither are the expectations placed upon them. So, they do what they need to, to cope.
Perhaps the strangest piece of the puzzle involving Julia’s death, though, comes when the police tech guy follows an electronic trail in the girl's laptop, which points to her engaging in cyber-bullying someone.
Is it just another case of a girl whose life had spun so far out of control that the only way out seemed to be taking her own life, though... or is there something dark and malevolent at play, the murder of a teenager with her whole life ahead of her, possibly in order to cover up something she had done? Ellie may have been reluctant at the beginning, but the more they dig, the more determined she is to find the truth. 
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Never Tell is a kitchen-sink book; it doesn’t actually have a little bit of everything in it, but it comes pretty close. (In addition to the themes already mentioned, it also touches on rape, transgenderism, homelessness, blackmail, theft, stalking, the influence of the media, and various abuses of power.) That Burke is able to take all of these elements--some of which are hot-button topics--and mold them into a cohesive, thrilling, and believable story, without it feeling too ripped-from-the-headlines, is no small feat.  
Just as impressive is how she takes a lot of rather unlikable, unsympathetic characters--because honestly, even after reading about how un-wonderful the lives of the ridiculously wealthy can be, I still can’t find it in myself to pity them--and make them interesting and, if not precisely likable, then at least accessible. 
Finally, Ellie remains a strong lead character. (Note that it isn’t necessary to read the previous Ellie Hatcher books to plunge into Never Tell; it stands fine on its own.) She makes plenty of mistakes, professionally and in her personal life, but you’ll always root for things to work out.
I could say that Never Tell is the complex, multi-layered tale of a lot of self-important people who are all-consumed with the practice of deceiving themselves and each other, and who in general occupy the majority of their time doing a lot of very bad things... or I could just tell you it’s a highly-addictive story, well worth a read. :)  

GlamKitty Catnip Mousie Rating:  Highly-Addictive Mousies