Two Can Keep A Secret by Karen M. McManus

The Blurb On The Back:

Echo Ridge is reeling.

This picturesque town, nestled near the Canadian border, experienced its first tragic loss in 1995 when high-school senior Sarah Corcoran vanished while walking home from the library.

Then five years ago, homecoming queen Lacey Kilduff was found dead in the aptly named Murderland Halloween park.

Now, the killer claims to be back.

A small town that keeps losing its homecoming queens.

Two murders, still unsolved.

Echo Ridge is not a good place to be popular.

You can buy TWO CAN KEEP A SECRET by Karen M. McManus from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s 30th August 2018.  17-year-old twins Ellery and Ezra Corcoran have moved to Echo Ridge in Vermont to live with their grandma after their mother Sadie’s combination of opioid addiction and a car crash has led to her being confined to a court-mandated rehab facility in California.  

Sadie left Echo Ridge shortly after her twin sister, Sarah disappeared the same night Sadie was crowed as Homecoming Queen.  No trace of her has ever been found.  Sadie’s only been back to Echo Ridge twice: once for her grandfather’s funeral and again 5 years ago for the funeral of Lacey Kilduff who was found murdered in the town’s Halloween theme park shortly after being crowned Homecoming Queen.

The chief suspect in Lacey’s murder was her boyfriend, Declan Kelly, who was arguing with Lacey in the run-up to her death and doesn’t have a strong alibi for the time.  The local police never brought charges (not for lack of effort) but everyone in town knew that Declan was guilty and he moved away to neighbouring New Hampshire after the stress of local suspicion broke up his parents’ marriage.

Ellery is an avid true crime fan who knows all about Echo Ridge’s crime history but even she wasn’t expecting to get up-close-and-personal on her first night.  On their way back from the airport though they find the body of Mr Bowman (a local High School science teacher), the apparent victim of a hit and run.  As the town reels from Mr Bowman’s death, someone begins to put up painted signs around town promising a sequel to the Homecoming Queen murders …

Karen M. McManus’s standalone YA crime mystery is an entertaining page turner with plenty of twists and red herrings and I liked the dual narration from Ellery and Malcolm as it helped maintain pace.  However, I guessed who dunnit far too early and while there’s an ending to the book, it isn’t a wholly satisfying resolution, not least because the killer’s motives are so under drawn while the fall out from the reveal is rather glossed over.

There was a lot that I enjoyed about this book.  McManus keeps events going at a cracking pace and the decision to split narration between Ellery (whose aunt Sarah disappeared) and Malcolm (whose elder brother was a suspect in Lacey’s murder) brings added depth and an emotional resonance to the story from both sides of the victim/suspect equation. I also enjoyed the way McManus mirrors the close relationship that Ellery has with her twin Ezra as compared with the more distant (both physically and emotionally) relationship that Malcolm has with Declan.  

Malcolm’s friendship with Mia is entertaining and believable and McManus gives him a dry wit when it comes to assessing the impact of his mum’s second marriage with Peter Nilsson (a big shot lawyer who’s connected with some of Edge Ridge’s most important people) on the standing of himself and his mum with the disapproving townsfolk.  On the flip side, Malcolm’s step-sister and High School queen bee Katrin is a little bare bones, not helped by the fact that Katrin is a stock bitchy popular girl and while McManus gives her moments where that facade seems to drop, one of her actions in the final quarter comes across as abrupt and there’s no real build up to it, which did throw me out of the book a little bit.

As a murder mystery, I thought the book was working well for the first three quarters.  There are plenty of suspects, red herrings and different motives, all handily summarised by Ellery who, despite her obsession with true crime, is a lousy detective.  Unfortunately I guessed who the killer was before the half-way mark and that was a problem because they weren’t particularly well developed as a character so trying to work out how they did it and why proved to be an exercise in futility because the reader isn’t really given an explanation.  

This in turn leads to my other problem with the book is that what you get is a conclusion but it doesn’t actually resolve anything – especially in the case with the disappearance of Ellery’s aunt where Ellery decides to keep the resolution to herself.  That, to me, was very disappointing given the impact of that disappearance on her grandmother and mother and I just felt that it was a cop out.  Equally, the revelation of who the killer was had big implications for one of the side characters but this really doesn’t get explored at all and I felt that it needed to be given some of the earlier themes in the book.

All in all, I did enjoy this book – it’s pacy and entertaining and at times it did keep me guessing, even though the ending really didn’t satisfy me at all.  I’d definitely check out McManus’s other books on the strength of this one. 

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