Book Reviews and Recommendations: "Two Can Keep a Secret" by Karen M. McManus
After devouring Karen M. McManus's debut novel, One Of Us Is Lying last year, it's perhaps no surprise that I was eager (and by eager I mean that I was stalking the Waterstones website for months) to get my hands on her latest release, Two Can Keep A Secret.
Having loved every minute of the author's first book, I had high expectations for this novel and I'm here to tell you if it lived up to the hype or not.
Warning: This review may contain spoilers, proceed with caution.
What Is Two Can Keep a Secret About?
Before we go any further, let's get into what Two Can Keep A Secret is about. I've also noticed a lot of confusion swirling around the internet about whether it is in any way linked to McManus's last book, so let me start by saying that both novels are completely different in terms of plot, characters and location.
This time round we are thrown into the not-so sleepy town of Echo Ridge, where true-crime-obsessed Ellery and her twin brother Ezra are sent to live with their grandmother after their erratic mum is placed into a rehab centre for treatment.
Unfortunately for the twin's, their arrival in their mother Sadie's hometown doesn't go as smoothly as they might have anticipated. Ellery's luggage gets lost by the airline, a storm is raging and then there's the small matter of the dead man in the middle of the road - who turns out to be a well-loved teacher at their new high school. If that wasn't a flashing warning sign for trouble to come, I don't know what is...
Unsurprisingly the troubles with Echo Ridge don't start and stop there. Years before Ellery and Ezra were even born, their aunt Sarah (Sadie's twin) disappeared without a trace on Homecoming night. With her case remaining unsolved all these years later, the effects on both the town and her family remain hugely apparent.
Tragedy returned to the town five years before the twin's arrival in Echo Ridge when Homecoming Queen Lacey disappeared only to be found dead. Now with her suspected killer (then-boyfriend, Declan Kelly) conveniently lurking in the neighbouring town and gory messages popping up all over Echo Ridge threatening the next Homecoming Queen, it seems that the aptly named Murderland Killer is back - and this time Ellery and Ezra find themselves caught right in the middle of Echo Ridge's infamous murder mystery.
Representation was a key thing I noticed when it came to the characters in Two Can Keep A Secret, but it was done in such a subtle and elegant way that it didn't interfere or draw away from the story-line. What I mean by that, is that many creators are guilty of using ethnicity, sexuality etc. as a way to show off how inclusive they are, and instead of telling a story and building on authentic characters, they use these aspects as a sole means of defining them as people, which for me is a major no-no.
Overall, McManus does an expert job of creating in-depth and interesting characters that are both believable and mysterious. My only nit-pick when it comes to the characters would be that keeping track of all the names, families and how they are linked to the unsolved crimes does become a little tricky - but maybe that's just me and my short attention span!
I've selected four of the most interesting/complex individuals below to give you an idea of how dynamic the relationships and characters are.
- Ellery Corcoran: As Ellery is one of the only two characters whose perspective we get to read (the other being Malcolm), her development throughout the novel is much more apparent. Desperate to learn more about the disappearance of her aunt, and the town her mother is so secretive about, Ellery becomes obsessed with true crime novels which significantly impact the trust she has in people. Throughout the novel, she battles against this developed trait, and her inability to put her faith in anyone except for Ezra almost fractures her relationship with Malcolm Kelly after he is accused of carrying on the work of the Murderland Killer. But in spite of her naturally suspicious mind, Ellery can also be very naive which leads her into dangerous (and potentially fatal) situations.
- Ezra Corcoran: Unlike his sister, Ezra is the more laid back of the twins and because of this he often has to mediate the tension between Ellery and their mother Sadie. He has no trouble making friends and quickly bonds with Mia, the only other out student at Echo Ridge High School. Throughout the book, he is likened to his mother, while Ellery is often compared to their missing aunt Sarah.
- Sadie Corcoran: Although Sadie doesn't feature very much in the novel, McManus still manages to build on her character through the short phone calls and memories Ellery shares of her. I'll be totally honest and say that I completely hated Sadie at first. In the beginning, she comes across as self-centred, ignorant and neglectful of her children. By refusing to divulge any information about who their father is and hopping from town to town with them in tow to chase her dream as an actress, she prevents them from building any lasting connections or friendships. Having said that, her substance abuse and erratic behaviour are a clear cry for help as she still has no idea of how to cope with her sister's disappearance - and the secret she harbours from that night.
- Malcolm Kelly: Living in the shadow of his older brother Declan Kelly who was accused of Lacey's murder and essentially run out of town, Malcolm struggles to connect with people. As the school's outcast, things look bleak for Malcolm but when he's caught with a can of spray paint at the scene of the killer's threatening note (big yikes!), things only get worse. His inability to build relationships with others also extends to how we connect with him as readers. I don't know if this was intentional or not on McManus's part to build on the mystery aspect of the novel, but he can often come across as being very distant.
Unless you're like me and you manage to guess the big finale within the first few chapters (what can I say, I'm more obsessed with true crime than Ellery is!) Two Can Keep A Secret is an addictive whodunnit novel that will keep you guessing up until the very end. Despite managing to piece together the ending pretty quickly, there were still plenty of twists and turns left for me to enjoy throughout the novel and having my suspicions confirmed on the final page didn't change how much I enjoyed the book.
One poignant aspect that came right at the end, which was perhaps more impactful for me than the ''big reveal'', is that Ellery had spent her entire life desperately wanting to uncover the truth about what happened to her aunt and the killer that plagued Echo Ridge only to be burdened with a secret that she won't ever be able to share.
With that being said, one critique I do have about the ending though is that I felt the last few chapters were a little bit rushed and not as polished as I expected them to be given how well planned out the rest of the novel was. Because of this, there were some loose ends that I still feel need to be tied up *SPOILER ALERT* mainly why Sadie was targeted in the first place as she doesn't seem to fit the killers MO.
Criticisms aside, Two Can Keep A Secret was a thrilling read which was chock-full of positives. I only hope that in the future Karen M. McManus will return to Echo Ridge for a follow-up novel but for now, I'm preparing to obsess over her upcoming release One Of Us Is Next.
I hope this review has helped you decide if Two Can Keep A Secret is worthy of a space on your bookshelf, and if you have read it already then I would love for you to share your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below.
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