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You'll Never Know, Dear


You'll Never Know, Dear

Hallie Ephron writes well, if not often. Those who have read her four previously published novels know what I’m talking about. YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR arguably has more in common with her earlier books than with the most recent, NIGHT NIGHT, SLEEP TIGHT, in that the latter is a historical mystery set in Hollywood, while the former is a domestic thriller taking place in coastal South Carolina. However, Ephron’s talent for creating intriguing mysteries against interesting backdrops remains as intact as ever.

The heart of the mystery in YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR is an incident that took place some 40 years prior to the book’s present. Seven-year-old Lissie Woodham was playing in the yard with her younger sister, Janey, who inexplicably disappeared. The girls’ mother --- Miss Sorrel, a famous doll maker known for creating personalized dolls --- is horribly distraught but never gives up hope that Janey will one day come home. Every year since Janey’s disappearance, Miss Sorrel, aided and abetted by Eleanor, her next-door neighbor, co-worker and best friend, has offered an increasing reward for the return of the doll that Miss Sorrel had created in Janey’s image and that disappeared with her daughter on that fateful day.

"...a compelling story with an interlocking mystery that should be of interest to readers and book groups everywhere."

A ray of hope shines as YOU’LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR opens, with the appearance of Jenny, an initially somewhat secretive and hostile woman who shows up at Miss Sorrel’s door holding what appears to be the doll that vanished with Janey so many years before. She is met with equal parts joy and skepticism, but before the doll or the woman can be thoroughly investigated, the kiln in Miss Sorrel’s house explodes, injuring both Miss Sorrel and Lis, now an adult living with her mother. This turn of events brings Vanessa Strenger, Lis’ college-age daughter, home to Bonsecours, South Carolina, from her sleep and dream research in Rhode Island.

Mysteries abound. The kiln explosion is somewhat suspicious. In the aftermath, someone stole a priceless collection of Miss Sorrel’s handmade dolls. Then, of course, there is Jenny, who may or may not be the long-absent Janey. If she is, where has she been? And how did she go missing? And if she isn’t, how did she acquire the doll? Vanessa and her mother work toward a solution to the mysteries --- sometimes with one not knowing what the other is doing --- and on the road to discovering answers, they uncover even more mysteries that include long and closely held secrets. By the conclusion, nothing will be quite the same for the Woodham family and many other people.

Ephron has done yeoman’s work in researching topics, tangential and otherwise, for YOU'LL NEVER KNOW, DEAR. One learns much about the process of creating craft dolls over the course of the book, and she somehow makes and keeps the topic interesting, even for those of us whose interest in dolls was limited to hiding their younger sister’s favorites from her. There is also a quick but effective course in DNA 101 (Ephron explains a factor of DNA interpretation that I never really understood until reading this book), as well as sleep research and the stuff of dreams. All of this is wrapped in a compelling story with an interlocking mystery that should be of interest to readers and book groups everywhere.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 9, 2017

You'll Never Know, Dear
by Hallie Ephron