Fri
Jun 2 2017 12:00pm

Review: You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron

You'll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron is an addictive novel of psychological suspense about three generations of women haunted by a little girl’s disappearance and the porcelain doll that may hold the key to the truth (available June 6, 2017).

New York Times-bestselling author Hallie Ephron comes from an impressive lineage of writers, but the mystery genre remains hers alone. A four-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award, she first co-authored a five-book series with Donald Davidoff under the pen name G. H. Ephron before going solo with 2009’s Never Tell a Lie. Three female-driven standalone novels followed. Her fifth, You’ll Never Know, Dear, sticks to that formula while showcasing yet another progression of her storytelling abilities. 

The book takes place in a present that has largely been shaped by the past. Forty years ago, four-year-old Janey Woodham went missing while under the watch of her older sister, Lissie. Gone, too, went a porcelain doll that was made in her likeness. Every year since that fateful day, the girls’ mother, Miss Sorrell, has placed an ad in the local paper with a picture of the doll and the offer of a $5000 cash prize for its return. After decades of silence, the doll resurfaces—and with it, the hope that Janey, too, may finally come home.

The doll—a Miss Sorrell original, though the Woodham family matriarch has long since given up that particular hobby—is proffered by a skittish twenty-something who identifies herself only as “Miss Richards.” Spooked by questions of how it came to be in her possession, she runs off, leaving the collectible behind and the reward unclaimed.

Undeterred, Miss Sorrell enlists the help of her best friend/neighbor/partner in restoration, Evelyn Dumont, in positively identifying the piece—but a late night explosion lands her and Lissie in the hospital before they can proceed. Lissie’s daughter, Vanessa—a psychologist studying dream control—soon rushes to their side from out of state and discovers that this seeming accident may have been anything but. Their ensuing investigation is one that has the potential to either put their broken family back together or splinter it forever apart.

The story is set against the backdrop of Bonsecour—a fictitious stand-in for Beaufort, South Carolina. The antebellum architecture, live oaks, and dripping moss are as much characters in the book as the people that populate its pages; not only does this serve to create an atmosphere of charm and gentility but also one where suspicions often go unspoken and are routinely hidden under the guise of good manners.

Beyond scenic flourishes, Ephron excels at depicting the dynamics between ordinary women thrust into extraordinary situations. While she’s often told tales of mothers and daughters, this is her first three-generation saga, and the result is a poignant portrayal of how tragedies often have a trickle-down effect, blighting everyone they touch despite the degrees of separation.

You’ll Never Know, Dear is a worthy and irresistibly readable addition to the author’s impressive arsenal. While discerning readers may harbor strong suspicions as to who the guilty party is, it’s the why that drives the narrative—a consideration that proves compelling until the bitter/sweet end. Though Ephron’s work is often classified as women’s fiction, it should appeal to anybody who enjoys intelligent, stylistic suspense. After all, questions of family, fidelity, and forgiveness are universal.

 

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John Valeri wrote the popular Hartford Books Examiner column for Examiner.com from 2009 – 2016. He can be found online at www.johnbvaleri.com and is featured in the Halloween-themed anthology Tricks and Treats, now available from Books & Boos Press.

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