Published: 8th January 2019
Genre: Young Adult Mystery
Trigger warnings: Drug references, sexual exploitation, sexual references
This was my fourth book by Karen M. McManus in the space of just a little over two months, and once again my reading companion was Ellie. We were not kept guessing quite as much as the other ones, but it still led to a lot of fun discussions. Thank you so much to Ellie for reading it with me!
Ellery’s never been to Echo Ridge, but she’s heard all about it. It’s where her aunt went missing at age sixteen, never to return. Where a Homecoming Queen’s murder five years ago made national news. And where Ellery now has to live with a grandmother she barely knows, after her failed-actress mother lands in rehab. No one knows what happened to either girl, and Ellery’s family is still haunted by their loss.
Malcolm grew up in the shadow of the Homecoming Queen’s death. His older brother was the prime suspect and left Echo Ridge in disgrace. His mother’s remarriage vaulted her and Malcolm into Echo Ridge’s upper crust, but their new status grows shaky when mysterious threats around town hint that a killer plans to strike again. No one has forgotten Malcolm’s brother-and nobody trusts him when he suddenly returns to town.
Ellery and Malcolm both know it’s hard to let go when you don’t have closure. Then another girl disappears, and Ellery and Malcolm were the last people to see her alive. As they race to unravel what happened, they realize every secret has layers in Echo Ridge. The truth might be closer to home than either of them want to believe.
This had all the makings of a good mystery, but did not quite live up to its considerable potential. An intriguing premise and a smattering of unexpected twists made it a fairly absorbing read for much of the way, but a general lack of development throughout the story as well as a somewhat confused, anti-climactic ending both proved a major hindrance.
It has the fast-paced narrative that is expected in a young adult novel, while both the setting and a sequence of frightful events help to create an ominous atmosphere. The problem is that it just tried to cram too much in, with the mystery centering on incidents that take place over three separate time periods, and the inclusion of an unnecessary romance element.
With their mother in hospital undergoing rehabilitation, twins Ellery and Ezra Corcoran are to sent to live with their grandmother in the town of Echo Ridge, the place where homecoming queen Lacey Kilduff was the victim of an unsolved murder five years previously. A long time before that, their aunt Sarah disappeared and has not been seen since.
On the night of their arrival, the twins are on their way to their grandmother’s house when they encounter the body of local teacher Jason Bowman, who was the victim of a hit-and-run. However, his death is soon forgotten as the latest homecoming contest is overshadowed by a series of threatening messages, and then one of the leading competitors suddenly goes missing.
Declan Kelly is the man many suspected of killing Lacey, and these latest incidents coincide with his return to town. His brother Malcolm also comes under scrutiny, but he and true crime fanatic Ellery soon develop a close friendship and together they try and work out who might be behind the sinister goings on, especially with the police investigation seemingly not up to standard.
There are so many plot strands to untangle here that it does get a little bit chaotic and although the mystery is enjoyable enough, it felt as though the author was trying to make things too complex. It may have worked if the book was slightly longer, but in just a little over 300 pages that was rather difficult to achieve and as a result the whole thing lacked development.
On the bright side, it does keep you guessing as the high number of characters means there are a lot of suspects who could be involved in either of the deaths or disappearances, or responsible for the messages. In addition the twists are effective and unpredictable, while this whole backdrop brings a degree of tension to proceedings.
The book is told entirely in the first person, told from the alternating perspectives of Ellery and Malcolm. There is not a huge amount of difference between the two in the way they are written, but Ellery does come across as more inquisitive and proactive, while Malcolm is affected by his brother’s reputation and as such he initially seems tentative and lacking in self-esteem.
They were both reasonably likeable and it was fun how Ellery’s obsession with true crime played such an important role in the story; the only problem was the introduction of a romance between them which did not have much foundation. Of the other characters, my favourites were Ezra, Mia, and Brooke, who were also easy to connect with.
Arguably the most complex of them all is the police officer, Ryan Rodriguez. At first he seems very aloof, but it turns out there is far more to him than first meets the eye. By contrast, Declan and Sadie were both untrustworthy, while Katrin and Viv were just totally unlikable. With each of them, the question is where they all fit into the story and its overarching puzzle.
Echo Ridge is presented as an attractive place with a very haunting and claustrophobic vibe, with all the residents seeming to know one another. There are constant reminders across the town of what happened to Lacey and Sarah. At the same time, outsiders are not necessarily welcomed with open arms and having been accused of murder, Declan is forced to live somewhere else.
Having read all of Karen M. McManus’ other novels, the writing style holds no surprises, although this time around there is perhaps more emphasis on the plot than the characters. That arguably weakened the impact of the ending, where there was so much to resolve and not all of it was done in a satisfactory way.
After all of the build up, it turned out to be less thrilling than I expected and then the remaining chapters were a bit of an info-dump, with several important things glossed over and others not quite ringing true. The very last line is an eye-opener and does lead to a whole host of possibilities, but it is not quite enough to right the wrongs of what went before it.
Overall, this was a book that had many things going for it, but also has to go down as something of a missed opportunity. The setting and the characters were both excellent components, and there were a number of reasons to get excited about the mystery, only for it to fall beneath the weight of a convoluted plot. A decent read, but it could have been much better.
I was expecting more from this book, but there were some redeeming features that made it fairly enjoyable despite the flaws.
My rating: ⭐⭐⭐