Harper, 348 pages, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-06-199916-1
This will be a special . . . and different . . . MBR. Special because it’s number sixty-six, which always reminds me of the Mother Road from The Grapes of Wrath, also known formally as the Will Rogers Highway; it is, of course the iconic Route 66. It was born as part of the US Highway System on November 11, 1926, and was immortalized in Steinbeck’s novel about the Okie migration to California in the 1930’s. It connected the city of Chicago to Los Angeles by the way of Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. When I was in high school, there was a TV program called Route 66. It was about two guys who traveled around in a Corvette convertible and had adventures, which usually involved pretty young women in distress along Route 66; they were sort of modern-day cowboy drifters in a sports car. As plots and screenwriting go, it was pretty thin stuff, but my pal Mike and I loved that show and always compared notes about it the next day at school. In fact, it made such an impression on us that a certain old retired guy can still be seen on occasional sunny days driving around Neversink in a blue ’64 Corvette Stingray . . .
The reason it will be a different MBR is because I feel as though I know the author . . . although I have never met or spoken or written to her. Never Tell by Alafair Burke is her eighth overall and the fourth in her Ellie Hatcher series. In it, Hatcher, a NYPD detective and her partner Rogan are called to the scene of the apparent suicide of a privileged teen-age girl from the well-to-do family of a celebrity record producer, because the girl’s mother is exerting influence, interfering with the death scene and the EMT’s sent to help. Julia Whitmire seemed to have it all, and while the evidence points to suicide, her mother and father insist that she would never take her own life. When the parents use their political influence to force a criminal investigation, a reluctant Hatcher and a slightly more open-minded Rogan are forced to dig further. When they do, it becomes clear that Julia Whitmire’s life was fractured with secrets. As Hatcher and Rogan investigate, the case becomes evermore complex, as new characters and more secrets unfold. Family secrets, personal secrets and criminal secrets are revealed right up to the startling conclusion of this excellent serial mystery that will keep you guessing to the end. Ms. Burke has been getting great reviews from a number of crime-fiction luminaries, including Harlan Coben, Michael Connelly, Karin Slaughter, Nelson DeMille, the Associated Press, New York Times and Lisa Ungar. Dennis Lehane calls her, “One of the finest young crime writers working today,” and I can find nothing to argue with him. Alafair Burke, in addition to having one of the most beautiful given names in the entire English language, has a monster talent that will make her a major crime fiction novelist for many years. I look forward to lots of pleasant afternoons and evenings in her company. Read Never Tell, and you will too.
How can I know her and never meet? Her name was used in a series of crime novels written by her father, James Lee Burke. Some apples don’t fall far from the tree, my dear departed old mother would have said, A chip off the old block and other such aphorisms. Well, I hate to say it Ma, you being gone and everything, but that’s all BS & Donkey Dust. Alafair Burke is a major talent in her own right and would have risen to the top of her chosen field. Of that I am certain.