by velocibadgergirl

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon

I read a few pages of Promise Not to Tell about two weeks ago at Barnes & Noble, and couldn't get the setup of the story out of my head. I requested it from the library, and it came in just in time for me to take it with me on a camping trip this weekend.

The book starts with a murder, but it was really the section right after the murder scene that hooked me:

My name is Kate Cypher and I am forty-one years old. I killed someone tonight. I have always believed myself to be a person incapable of murder. Suicide has crossed my mind once or twice, but murder? Never. Not this white-winged dove. I've marched for peace and give money on a regular basis to Amnesty International. I'm a school nurse who draws happy faces on Band-Aids, for Christ's sake.

But none of this changes the fact that it was little old me who pulled the trigger and, with near-perfect aim, put a hole in another human being's heart.

Promise Not to Tell is the story of the unsolved 1971 murder of Kate's best friend, 12-year-old Del Griswold, a girl no one really knew. It's the story of Kate coming to terms with her betrayal of Del just before her death and of a recent copy-cat murder. It's also a ghost story, and a damn good one.

The book alternates sections of the present-day story--Kate caring for her mother, stricken with Alzheimer's and a strange obsession with a gray-eyed blonde girl who's been dead for thirty years; Kate trying to comfort Opal, daughter of a woman who grew up in a hippie commune alongside Kate; the mystery of the recent murder of Opal's best friend; Kate's continuing guilt over Del's murder and reacquaintance with Del's brother Nicky--with the long-past story of Kate and Del's short and tragic friendship. The alternation of storylines never seemed choppy, and served well to establish tension in the story.

Some of the things I suspected about the story arc turned out to be accurate, especially in the case of the ghost story, but some aspects of the plot took me by surprise. I can't say much more than that without ruining the end, which would be unfair. Promise is utterly believable, just creepy enough without going too far (I was able to read it by the campfire and still sleep soundly in my tent afterwards), and enveloping. It's also pretty short, and a fast read. I definitely recommend it!



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