I can’t get enough of Karen M. McManus. Not only has every book of hers been a treasure, but this is my favourite one so far. I didn’t think it would, or could, but Echo Ridge High has surpassed Bayview High. A sequel (and potential conclusion) to Bayview High has been announced, and after two books, I’m more emotionally connected to that world, I suppose. But this (current) standalone just might be the best mystery novel I’ve ever read.
Strange disappearances and potential murders are not something the town of Echo Ridge isn’t used to. In fact, it’s been like a raincloud over the region for decades, when high-school senior Sarah Corcoran went missing three decades ago and squat has been turned up. Now her sister’s teenage kids have to move in with their grandmother, the only member of the family who both still lives there and they can go to, when their mother is forced into rehabilitation from opioids after crashing into a jewelry store. Ellery and Ezra, the two kids, end up, on their way in, witnessing the dead body of one of the high school teachers by the road. But things are just getting warmed up.
Meanwhile, there’s another kid who grew up in Echo Ridge, Malcolm Kelly. Years ago, his older brother Declan’s girlfriend, Lacey, was murdered, and considering how apparently most of the time it’s the boyfriend in these situations, Declan became the prime suspect. Nothing was ever turned up to officially charge Declan but no one else was ever caught, and the entire town has blamed him and put a stain on the Kelly family Malcolm has had to endure too. Malcolm and Ellery accidentally meet up when both of them come across strange vandalism that foretells further gruesome murders of prom queens (Sarah and Lacey were prom queens), and this could be from the same one who has been able to get away with it before. Fortunately, Ellery’s fascination with her aunt’s disappearance and Malcolm’s desire for his brother’s name to be cleared make them the perfect underdog teenage detectives. The culprit won’t know what hit ’em! Or culpritS.
One Of Us Is Lying had four points of view. One Of Us Is Next had three. This one is more confined at two, and even though I loved both books AND all the different voices, I ended up being a bigger fan of the sole duo. Maybe that’s the main reason this is being given a perfect score and the others were near-perfect. But either way, when you easily fall in love with a book, you don’t have to give a thorough explanation for why.
Backstories and secrets are brought to light, and we do our best to follow. It’s easy and hard at the same time, easy because the story is so fun and the mystery welcoming, hard because the hidden complexity is expertly beneath the shadows. After the two Bayview High books, I knew McManus’ style, so every person in this story, even ones that were on the sidelines or incredibly close with Ellery and Malcolm, I had as suspects. Every individual in this book from top to bottom is the hero of their own story, and we learn so much, and yet not too much, making it seem like everybody could be the one behind the figurative mask and every detail brought up in this book could be the one that leads us to him or her. The characters begin drawing up conclusions, and we are on their same page, but we also think, as we look back, at every fact this doesn’t mention, and we know there must be something else. The fact we find out some facts told to us were false and then we, along with the characters, have to switch theories around, is an extra little topping that spikes up the suspense even more.
There’s also a trio clique clearly inspired from Mean Girls. Katrin, Viv and Brooke. Viv is at first seen as the one pasted in because the other two were shown importance, then we realize our low expectations of this Vivian were misinformed. Viv turns into just as complex and suspicious as her two friends. Brooke is seen as the sympathetic one and Katrin is seen as the snobby leader, so we have just enough information to follow along, and then just like everyone else, we realize behind each of them, just like every character McManus has ever introduced, is a complexity that rivals even the big heroes of some of the best books out there. I also loved how the story was not just gathering up clues and a bunch of wild guessing before the final confrontation. This book is on the move here, with everything happening as fast as a rollercoaster, and I feel only the best mysteries operate this way. I sometimes have hesitation towards mystery novels and mystery stories in general because I worry the guessing game will get in the way of making us care about and fall in love with the characters, worlds, and actual circumstances. When a mystery keeps the action going in the middle and there’s a real sadness or fury behind the stories we learn about, that’s how they should be made in general.
Two Can Keep A Secret is packed with cleverness, excitement, and the hardest of all when creating a complex mystery; total plausibility. Every time Karen M. McManus brings us a new book, she proves all over again the wonder one can make with a little imagination. It’s even better if you bring something to take notes.