What happened to Amanda Holmes?
Twenty years ago, Amanda was found in a rowboat at the MacAllister family’s Camp Macaw. She had been brutally beaten, but the crime stumped the police. No one was ever arrested or charged.
The elder MacAllisters have died tragically and suddenly, so now their children are returning to the place where they grew up. Their father’s will must be read and the siblings need to decide what to do with the property now that their parents — primarily, their father — are no longer around to run it. With real estate prices soaring and son Ryan facing financial ruin following the malfeasance of his business partner, a sale is the option he plans to lobby for. He has a wife forcing the issue, as well as three daughters he adores and needs to provide for.
Ryan was the attractive, charming boy that the girls at camp, including Amanda, developed crushes on. Margaux, her childless marriage in trouble, is on the fence, but Mary adamantly believes that Camp Macaw should continue providing unforgettable summers to campers. Twins Kate and Liddie have opinions as opposite as their personalities.
Sean Booth has lived at the camp year-round for most of his life, employed by the MacAllisters as a groundskeeper. For him, the camp is home and, although he believes he has nothing to say about its fate, he is adamantly in favor of keeping it open. He has nowhere else to go, an emotional attachment to the camp, and was extremely loyal to the MacAllisters who provided him security in his troubled childhood.
Mr. MacAllister’s will provides a highly unorthodox stipulation. No disposition can be decided on until the siblings and Sean solve, at long last, the mystery of who attacked Amanda.
Thus, the five siblings and Sean are thrown together at Camp Macaw, facing two challenges: Find out what really happened on that summer night so many years ago, and then reach a consensus as to the camp’s fate.
What better setting could there be for summer reading than a book set in summer camp? In author Catherine McKenzie’s skillful hands, none.
The ambitious premise of I’ll Never Tell could have been doomed. But McKenzie’s growth as a novelist has been on display with each successive book, including her most recent, The Good Liar. I’ll Never Tell is a tautly-constructed, engrossing mystery told from the perspective of each sibling, along with those of Sean and Amanda, who describes exactly what happened to her on that fateful night. Additionally, two other characters loom large in the story: Mr. MacAllister and the camp itself. Despite the number of narrative threads, the story is easy to follow, thanks to the clarity of McKenzie’s writing, and the depth and development of her characters through insight into their thought processes and feelings. A map of the camp is provided, along with a chart showing the location of each character at specific times on the night in question, which also helps.
Plausibly, each sibling, along with Sean, is a suspect. McKenzie provides each of them with a believable motive, as well as the opportunity, to have been with and harmed Amanda that night. Moreover, each is keeping secrets from the others, for a variety of reasons, and harbors motives to want to sell the camp or maintain it that are not immediately apparent to the others.
McKenzie deftly explores each character’s life circumstances. Margaux is struggling with whether to remain in her marriage. Prim-appearing Kate has her own romantic issues, while Liddie remains her unconventional, outspoken self. Sean has no family other than the MacAllisters and for him, that’s enough, so long as he is allowed to remain at Camp Macaw.
Ryan’s business partner turned out to be a criminal and now the business is failing. His marriage to Kerry is troubled, and he is also nervous to be back at Camp Macaw under the current circumstances. All those years ago, he was a suspect, questioned intently by the police. And he did have a problem controlling his temper, but it is allegedly under control these days. Now forty years old, he wants to “unburden himself from all of, all of them. . . . break free from his past, . . . hit reset. Be a better father, husband, man.” Meanwhile, Ryan and Mary share a dark secret about another tragic event that, if revealed, could have far-reaching consequences.
McKenzie keeps the action moving at a swift pace, revealing the truth incrementally. Amanda observes, “I thought my life would start on the water, not end. I didn’t know — how could I? — that the last boat ride I’d take would be unknown to me, unknowable.” When all is revealed in a stunning climax to the story, most readers are sure to be taken completely by surprise.
I’ll Never Tell is a smartly conceived, expertly-executed thriller that may just be McKenzie’s best novel yet — and a perfect summer beach read.
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