You Don’t Have to Tell Me

There really is nothing quite like a good read, is there?

Alafair Burke has become one of my go-to’s; an author whose every book I preorder and start salivating when I get the shipping notice. I’ve not read her extensive backlist as of yet; I was late to the Burke party and began with The Ex. I do possess most of the backlist and it’s all in my TBR pile, but I’ve gotten so addicted to reading the new ones when they come out I never think to go back to the shelves to get one of the older titles–which is something I clearly need to do; and never have I felt that pull more than while reading her latest.

You see, she wrote a series about a New York cop named Ellie Hatcher–and Ellie comes back as part of the ensemble cast of Find Me, and what I saw of Ellie made me want to go back and read more about her. Well done on that front, Alafair! (This is something that I absolutely love when authors do; like how whenever Laura Lippman needs a Baltimore private eye, she brings in her old series character Tess–which is always a welcome joy whenever it happens….and maybe something I might be able to do with Chanse at some point. Hmmm.)

But I was very excited when Find Me was delivered into my hot little hands, and yesterday, while I was freezing inside the Lost Apartment, I grabbed a blanket and repaired to my easy chair, intent to read for an hour.

I didn’t stop until the book was finished.

Hope Miller shifted her gaze from the gas nozzle to the pump. When the gallon counter hit twelve, she scolded herself for not filling up before her trip into the city. She couldn’t risk an empty tank.

The nearest customer leaned against his green Jeep, sharing her same awkward wait, watching the digital numbers tick by. She noticed him looking at her. When he noticed her noticing, he flashed a practiced grin. She didn’t smile back.

That phrase, “It takes more muscles to frown than smile?” She had googled it once. Turns out, facial descriptions are subjective. Smiles, sneers, frowns, and smirks are all in the eye of the beholder. And the so-called facial nerve controls forty-something muscles, but some people have all of them, while others are missing almost half.

But scientists did agree on one thing–that smiles are innate. Reflexive. And viewed across cultures as a sign of friendliness.

A single man smiling at a single woman alone at a gas station at night?

Pretty great opening, isn’t it? The entire opening chapter is an exercise in suspense: is the woman imagining that this man isn’t just some stranger at a gas station? Is she being paranoid, or is this just the start of an innocuous encounter encapsulating the micro-aggressions directed at women by men on a daily basis? I understand that paranoia myself a bit–I experience it every time I travel throughout the deep South and have to stop for gas or to get something to eat; I am always on high alert during these times, paying attention to any and everything around me, and especially the people. I’ve stopped for gas and noticed someone staring at me before, and then following me back onto the highway, my heartrate increasing and adrenaline pumping through my veins as every mile ticks off on the odometer; I will often deliberately slow down to force the suspicious vehicle to eventually pass me…and this happens more regularly than it probably should. Anyway, I can relate to the main character’s paranoia; this is masterful suspense writing by the author, because now I have been pulled into the story and I am worried about the main character.

The book is mostly set in the Hamptons, with some scenes taking place in New York City; there’s even a detour to Wichita (KANSAS!!! It keeps popping up everywhere lately!). The main character of the story is NOT the paranoid young woman in the first chapter (and I cannot explain to you, Constant Reader, how wonderful that first chapter is; everything in that first chapter, every tiniest detail–everything she feels and thinks and remembers–is crucial to the story), but rather her sort-of adopted sister, criminal defense attorney Lindsay Kelly. The young woman in the first chapter, Hope Miller, is already, in and of herself, a mystery. She was found some years earlier, as a teenager, thrown from a wrecked vehicle with no memory of who she is, where she came from, or how she wound up in New Jersey. (The car had Indiana plates and was reported stolen.) Eventually, she takes the name Hope Miller and moves in with the Kelly family–a woman without a past that Lindsay somehow feels responsible for; more so than as a friend or as a sister. Hope is damaged, obviously, and has only recently decided to take control of her life and start over somewhere different than the small town in New Jersey where she’s been living since the Kellys took her in–she wants to go somewhere where everyone doesn’t know her as “the mystery girl with amnesia.” Hope disappears, and Lindsay is desperate to find her; has her true past finally come back to haunt Hope? Who is she? And what, if anything, does she have to do with the murder of a local charter fisherman who was murdered around the time she disappeared? Is she dangerous?

The search for Hope soon draws in some more characters–including, as mentioned earlier, police detective Ellie Hatcher from Manhattan–and there are multiple stories going, all of them tied together, all of them leading back to Hope’s mysterious past, and there’s also a potential link to a serial killer Ellie’s father investigated back when she was a girl. The characters are all well-drawn and developed enough to be real enough to draw the reader in to root for them; Burke is also masterful at pacing and when is the right opportunity to play yet another card that will either further confuse or enlighten the reader as the story continues to take shape out of the amorphous confusing mist entangling the characters.

Juggling all of the subplots and keeping them tied into the main story is also not an easy task for a writer, but Burke manages to do so, tidily winding up every loose end to leave the reader, as they close the book, smiling and satisfied with the experience.

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