I absolutely love family dramas involving old secrets, and I’ll Never Tell kept me hooked from beginning to end. It starts with the five adult McAllister children (black sheep Ryan, peacekeeper Margo, plain and quiet Mary, and twins Kate and Liddie) and the family groundskeeper Sean all gathering at the family’s Camp Macaw to read the parents’ will. A will reading is dramatic in itself, but this will has an unusual proviso: their father thinks but can’t prove that Ryan may be responsible for an incident twenty years ago that has left Margo’s best friend Amanda in a coma from which she still hasn’t recovered. The other McAllisters must vote about whether or not Ryan should receive his share of the estate. If they vote against Ryan, his share reverts to Sean instead, but more than the money, the will’s proviso forces characters to examine what they really believe happened all those years ago. Is Ryan innocent, and if so, whom among the rest of them was actually responsible?
The book feels like a locked room mystery in that there’s a really small group of suspects. While Amanda’s injury technically happened during camp, the story makes clear that one among the six main characters is responsible. I also really like the timeline that tracks character movements at the end of each flashback chapter, as this really added to the feeling of suspense. There are also some strong thrillerish elements, such as when characters admit that Ryan was low-key being held responsible for the injury all these years, and they realize that their current investigation into the incident may prompt whomever was really responsible to take desperate measures.
I’ll Never Tell is very much a character-driven story, and McKenzie does a great job in exploring the emotions of each character. I love seeing how their current situations shape their motivations (e.g. Ryan wanting to sell Camp Macaw because of his family’s finances, Mary wanting to keep Camp Macaw because of her horses), and I especially love how McKenzie reveals, layer by layer, glimpses into their childhood that also influence their motivations.
The final reveal made me sad, as did the way things unfolded after the reveal. I think this is a testament to McKenzie’s writing and the characters she has created. She has made me care about the characters beyond their roles as potential killers. Rather, I cared about who they were, how what happened to Amanda was shaped by their relationships with each other, and how the event twenty years ago continues to shape who they are, and how they connect with the rest of the family.
Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley in exchange for an honest review.