by Alafair Burke; Harper, 2012; 368 pages; $24.99
In Alafair Burke’s twisty crime thriller “Never Tell,” suspicion is an equal opportunity employer.
Before the plot’s last dirty secret is revealed, every character will come under careful scrutiny. From grieving parent to casual acquaintance to the victim herself, every motive will be questioned and every closet full of skeletons unlocked.
Channeling the opening sequence of an episode of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent,” Burke packs a lot in to what at first seems like an open-and-shut case.
Poor Little Rich Girl turns up dead in the bathtub of her posh Manhattan townhouse. NYPD takes one look at the slit wrist and suicide note and deems the case closed.
That is until Music Biz Hotshot Father and Absentee Mother pull strings with their friends in high places. Now No-nonsense Female Detective is on the case.
Turns out Poor Little Rich Girl had a penchant for older men, a BFF with a dark family secret and a social circle that includes troubled street kids and over-sexed prep students.
And in case that’s not enough intrigue for one teenage homicide investigation, the plot takes a few detours into cyberstalking, prescription drug abuse and stand-your-ground laws.
Not to mention the dating woes of Detective Ellie Hatcher. “Never Tell” is the fourth book in a series about Hatcher, a proud and practical Olivia Benson-type who comes complete with workaholic tendencies and screwed-up family tree.
But as absorbing as Hatcher’s personal life may be in previous books, here it only serves to slow down what is otherwise a relatively swift, steady narrative. Run-ins with a chauvinist judge and pressure from her overeager boyfriend are amusing enough, but can’t compete with the drama of her day job.
Especially once those cyber-stalking and stand-your-ground detours begin to snake their way surreptitiously into the main story line.
There are times when it all seems a bit too much; you may find yourself flipping back a few chapters to refresh your memory of supporting characters and elaborate subplots.
But you have to say this for Burke — she knows where to leave the bread crumbs.
As each potential perp takes a turn under Ellie’s (and the reader’s) wary gaze, Burke reveals just enough so that you think you’ve got it all figured out, until you realize you don’t.