Alafair Burke’s Never Tell (Harper Collins, 2012, $12.45) adds another layer to series protagonist Ellie Hatcher while uncovering the truth behind hollow-eyed, privileged Kardashian-wannabes.
Poor little rich kid Julia Whitmire has just slit her wrists in her parents’ posh New York townhouse, leaving her mother to rail at EMTs and city detectives that her daughter was murdered in spite of the clear signs of suicide. Her mother’s act may be that of a caring parent grieving in the pristine home, the truth bears little resemblence to the facade.
While 16 year-old Julia lived alone and her busy parents couldn’t be bothered to even live in the same zip code, Julia’s best friend Ramona enjoyed a warm, loving mother and plenty of encouragement. Julia’s wild side and Ramona’s adventurousness lead them to befriend three homeless teens, Vonda, Brandon, and Casey, simultaneously giving them a glimpse of how the other half live while conveniently annoying Julia’s parents. Julia and Ramona genuinely seem interested in leaving some of their vapidity behind, seeking a sort of reality more recognizable to millions of their fellow city dwellers but Julia’s death quickly severs any hope of normality while throwing their daily lives into stark relief.
After Julia’s death in a bathroom bigger than many New York apartment bedrooms, NYPD Detectives Ellie Hatcher and J. J. Rogan catch the case thanks to the serious weight thrown by Julia’s rock producer dad. Ellie, still carrying her own baggage detailed in previous novels, investigates with a skeptical eye and half-hearted motions. Fortunately, Rogan notices the first clue, starting a series of questions many do not want answered but vital to Ellie’s admitted OCD tendencies when on a case.
Because of Julia’s associations, Hatcher and Rogan find themselves on both sides of the tracks, investigating bicoastal millionaires and pessimistic homeless kids, all while searching for answers about Julia’s decision and confronting the parental cluelessness endemic to families of all social stratum.
Alafair Burke (Long Gone) continues to create engaging police procedurals that shrink from neither violence nor corruption while providing an easily-digestible look into the legal proceedings permeating criminal cases. Coincidentally, Burke is the daughter of popular novelist James Lee Burke, also a master of character development and atmosphere, although Alafair Burke’s New York is a tangle of sophistication and brutality, serving as a very different setting from the more primal Louisiana swamps and New Orleans backrooms.
In a great addition to the series, Ellie Hatcher keeps her sense of humor and an overwhelming tenacity, enabling her to navigate everything from court departments to the police bureaucracy while solving the death of a heartbroken girl who had everything.