If You Ever Tell

Carlene Thompson
2008, Romantic Suspense
St. Martin's, $6.99, 384 pages, Amazon ASIN 031237285X

Grade: D
Sensuality: Subtle

Creepy suspense thrillers are a weakness of mine, so the vaguely threatening title of If You Ever Tell pulled me right in. The promise of a tale of dark secrets and stalkings had me anxious to brew some hot chocolate and curl up with a deliciously scary tale. However, as I started the book, I soon figured out that this would be one that left me ashamed to admit that I had ever read it - and I had to read the whole thing.

Seventeen-year-old Teresa Farr resented her selfish father and stepmother, but she never wanted them dead. Still, that's exactly what happened when one night Teresa came home late to find her father and stepmother dead in a pool of blood. She later found her stepsister, the one member of the household she loved, seriously injured and Teresa herself sustained a minor wound. There were those who suspected Teresa of the killings, but a serial killer eventually confessed to them.

Eight years later, Teresa has rebuilt a life for herself and started a riding school. However, this all turns upside down when the confessed killer recants his story, and Teresa also begins to receive threatening letters. Teresa cannot help being frightened by a series of cartoonishly ridiculous events meant to teach her a lesson. Imagine the most hackneyed horror movie you've ever seen translated into book form. There's a little less blood and guts, but you get the general idea.

While the story starts off well enough, it quickly went off the rails. VH1 had a show once about the rules of horror movies. I don't remember them all, but some of the classics such as "Sluts Die!" and "You know what happens to the person who goes off alone..." stick in my mind. They find their extremely predictable applications here. Don't get me wrong. Campy can be fun if done in a tongue-in-cheek manner. Unfortunately, this author takes things way too seriously for that.

And then there's the romance. As the story opens, it quickly becomes apparent that Teresa will be reunited with her long-lost boyfriend Mac MacKenzie, now a successful local nightclub owner. Somehow, a nightclub in rural West Virginia manages to rake in enough money for Mac to live in style and even his put his mother up in a nice apartment. Who knew?

At any rate, Teresa and Mac fight, make up, and eventually make out with the gusto - and the emotional maturity - of a couple of teenagers. Readers will truly exhaust themselves watching Teresa and Mac talk and talk without ever saying a meaningful thing. Seriously, there is enough wooden dialogue here to build a cabin. The lack of chemistry doesn't help matters either. It's been a long time since I could honestly say that I really did not care whether the hero and heroine got together or not, but that's how I felt with this story. One-dimensional secondary characters don't help either. This is a book where each character clearly wears a halo or carries a pitchfork, and that aspect of it really does not enliven the reading experience.

The creepy prologue is just enough to keep me from giving this book a failing grade, but If You Ever Tell comes dangerously close to one. The flat writing and underdeveloped characters come together to create a story almost impossible to finish. When a suspense thriller bores one to the point that the reader no longer cares who the villain is, a major problem exists. That problem exists here, and I cannot see myself reading further from this author as a result.

-- Lynn Spencer

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