You’ll Never Know, Dear
William Morrow, June 2017
You’ll Never Know, Dear by Hallie Ephron is a stand-alone contemporary suspense novel that could just as easily be labeled women’s fiction. This book explores the long shadows and altered relationships that follow a child kidnapping. Forty years ago 7-year-old Elisabeth (Lis) Woodham was supposed to be watching her 4-year-old sister Jane. She was distracted as children that age can be and when she returned, Jane was gone along with the handmade porcelain doll she was playing with. No trace was ever found of her. Their mother began offering a reward for the return of the doll annually on the anniversary of the disappearance, thinking that whoever had the doll would know where her daughter was. While inevitably dolls of all kinds were offered every year in hopes of obtaining the reward, none of them were credible until this year, when a young woman showed up with a tattered doll that might well be the right one.
Within hours of seeing the doll and meeting the young woman a chain reaction of events occurs. Both Lis and her mother are hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning and the kiln in her mother’s workshop that she used for years explodes and sets their house on fire, bringing Lis’s daughter Vanessa home from New England where she is doing post-doctoral sleep research and escaping from her mother’s overprotectiveness. Together Vanessa and Lis investigate this present-day puzzle that reaches far into the distant past for answers.
The mother and daughter relationship and its variations over time are a major theme in this book. How they annoy each other and misunderstand each other and protect each other and need each other is shown over and over. Lis and her mother, Lis and her daughter, the young woman with the damaged doll and her mother, the familiar ideas take clear human form here.
I generally dislike thrillers and mysteries based on harm to children and avoid them. I can think of nothing worse for a parent than to lose a child through kidnapping. To use it as the plot of a story, even as realistically and tactfully as this one does, seems to trivialize a horrific occurrence. To minimize the tragedy Ephron, a skilled writer, focuses on the lost doll, not the lost child. In the back of the reader’s mind, the lost doll equals the lost child but the discussions among the characters concentrate directly on the doll, which I thought was an excellent way of downplaying the calamity. A smooth, fast-moving read.
Reviewed by Aubrey Hamilton, January 2018.