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Promise Not to Tell by Jennifer McMahon
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Jul 26, 07

bookshelves: mystery
Read in July, 2007

Although I’m not a big fan of mysteries, I am a die-hard horror fan, and when I saw the book Promise Not To Tell by first time novelist Jennifer McMahon come across my desk, I had to read it. Part murder mystery, part ghost story, it tells the story of two similar murders that take place thirty years apart in small town Vermont.

Kate Cypher is a Seattle school nurse returning to her hometown to check into nursing homes for her mother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. On the night of her arrival, a young girl is killed in the woods near her mother’s home in the same brutal manner as was her childhood friend, Del Griswold aka The Potato Girl, thirty years earlier. Kate introduces the story with a shocking confession: I killed someone tonight.

The Potato Girl has grown in legend, as popular among New Canaan’s citizens as The Hook and the Ghostly Hitchhiker. It is said that she rose from the dead on the same spot where her heart was cut out, and that she roams the woods seeking victims and revenge.

Truth be known, when alive Del Griswold was just a motherless 11-year-old who lived on a dilapidated farm with an abusive father and her seven brothers. She was a pariah at school, bullied and teased unmercilessly, practically friendless until a young Kate arrived in town to live with her mother on a hippie commune.

Like all good murder mysteries, there is plenty here to keep one guessing. The list of suspects is long. Was it the bus driver? Del’s mute friend?A member of the hippie commune? Kate’s mother? Kate herself? And objects linked to both murders keep appearing and disappearing at inopportune times: a rusty sheriff’s badge; a necklace; a plastic-handled knife; a Swiss Army knife.

Promise Not to Tell is an intriguing story of people who harbor secrets or threaten the secrets of others, sometimes at their own peril. It is a psychological study about bullying and peer pressure, and the shame and guilt wrought by them . And, most importantly, it is about new beginnings realized by letting go of the past.
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