3 out of 4 stars
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Ever Told is a "locked room" murder mystery by Benjamin Bremasi. The extended Harryngton family take a vacation at their holiday house, a large Victorian-style home in the country. One night, Jack and Cinthia Harryngton are brutally murdered, stabbed to death in a locked bedroom. There is no obvious evidence left at the scene, simply two bloodied bodies with a multitude of horrendous wounds. This leaves a houseful of potential suspects: Jack's brothers Tom, Mark and Andrew, Tom's wife Carol, their teenage daughter Samantha, Jack and Cinthia's son Noah and daughter Alice, and family friend Karen. The day before the murders, Jack announces his decision to sell the family business, angering all three of his brothers. To further thicken the plot, Cinthia's best friend Karen is having an affair with Jack, which he has just ended. Then there is the mysterious figure spotted at various times outside the house and believed responsible for a broken window and a phantom phone call. Maybe the killer isn't someone from inside the house at all...
I love locked room murder mysteries. Trying to figure out "whodunnit" and how is absolute mind-candy for any inquisitive reader of the crime genre. Bremasi constructs the story in an interesting fashion, jumping between "Past" and "Present" for each chapter, also labelling them with the date and either "The Day of the Murders" or "Two Days After the Murders" or similar. This organised approach makes it easy to follow the chronology of the story.
The first line of the book is a short, brutal attention-grabber: "The blood sprayed out of her like a faucet." There is also a great description of the setting: "They gazed at the beautiful lake lying in front of them as they moved through the yard, the glistening ice covering the water like a protective blanket." The story is engaging, with great tension generated by the person, possibly the killer, who is stalking both the family and an officer assigned to investigate the case. Bremasi also successfully paints one man as a brusque and unlikeable character, to the point where I really enjoyed his discomfort during a pointed police interview.
A few sentences are a little wordy, suggesting another edit might be worthwhile. "Drops of blood slowly dripped off it and landed lightly on the tiled floor below" could be written simply: "Blood slowly dripped off it onto the tiled floor." Crime readers know blood drips in drops, they know drops land lightly, and they know the floor is below. This drops an unwieldy fifteen-word sentence down to nine with no loss of meaning and arguably greater impact. Another example: "Mark just stared back at her with a blank look" is the same as "Mark just stared back at her blankly." Though writing teachers do recommend avoiding adverbs where possible, I would add the qualifier "unless you can replace four words with one".
There is another short passage with the word "still" used four times in three sentences, which is noticeably repetitive. Also, there are occasional uses of the incorrect (present) tense, such as "is" instead of "was" and "are" for "were". I found a few incorrect words, such as "their" for "they're" and "crevasse" for "crevice", and apostrophes in plurals, such as "Harryngton's" instead of "Harryngtons". A police officer also uses the phrase "spills the beans" at one point, which left me slightly incredulous - do the police really talk like that? Also, there are multiple examples of unusually spelled names: Cinthia (usually Cynthia), Harryngton (usually Harrington), Connway (usually Conway) and Jennson (usually Jenson). While I don't mind the occasional unusually spelled name, four in the one book seems like an unnecessary anomaly.
I must admit that most of these perceived negatives are very minor. Overall, Ever Told is a brilliantly plotted murder mystery. Rated on story alone, it is worth 4 stars without question. It is only minor editing issues which drop it to 3 out of 4 stars. The ending is dark and beautifully convoluted, fitting all the puzzle pieces neatly together and leaving the reader stunned. Regardless of its editing, I would recommend this book to any fan of the murder mystery genre, provided you don't mind gruesome crime scenes. Despite its minor issues, I'm confident you'll find it as satisfying as I did.
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