Please Don’t Tell by Elizabeth Adler
Pub. Date: July, 2013
Source: Hardcover, borrowed from work
Summary: Fen Dexter’s quiet life on the idyllic California coast is interrupted one stormy night when a blood-covered man shows up on her doorstep, claiming to have had a car accident. He tells her that he is on his way to San Francisco to help the police solve the murder of his fiancé. Unable to make it to the hospital because of the storm, he stays the night at Fen’s, and the attraction between them is obvious. The next morning he heads to the hospital where Fen’s niece, Vivi, is an ER doctor. Vivi is treating the most recent target of a serial killer whose signature move is to leave a note saying “Please Don’t Tell” taped across his victims’ mouths. When Fen’s mysterious stranger comes to Vivi to have his wounds stitched she agrees to set him up to talk with the police about his fiancé. Who is this man, really? What does he want with Fen and her family? And will they live long enough to uncover the truth?
Genre: Contemporary, Thriller, Suspense
Recommended for: Readers who are able to look past an extremely unsatisfying ending and sloppy editing
I’ve recently been on a Contemporary Thriller kick (a few weeks ago I even devoted a GoodReads Recommends post to the genre!) so when I came across a copy of Please Don’t Tell, it sounded like the perfect book to satisfy my craving. Unfortunately, while the opening chapters were excellent and set the scene so perfectly for an awesome ride, the Big Reveal and latter half of the book were so sloppy it felt like I was reading a completely different novel.
A string of murders has California residents terrified, so when a man wielding a knife shows up at Fen’s secluded cottage in the middle of a terrible storm, it’s understandable that she’s more than a little cautious. However, the man tells her he’s just been in a minor accident – the rain-slicked roads caused him to hit a tree at the end of her driveway – and she invites him in to see to his scrapes.
Dr. Vivian, Fen’s niece, has just received word that a new victim has been found and miraculously she’s still alive – but barely. Vivi throws herself into doing all she can to save this woman, who knows what she remembers from her attack that could finally bring police to tracking down the person responsible.
Please Don’t Tell essentially boils down to this: there’s a serial killer on the loose and his ‘calling card’ is a green post-it note saying “please don’t tell.” Initially, the novel geared up for an exciting story, especially with various chapters thrown in from the killer’s perspective, only he’s never named. Sadly, the excitement only lasted so long. Once the romance angle was thrown in, the novel came crashing down.
We have Fen, a 58-year-old woman, happily living in her cottage by the ocean with her dog Hector. As a young woman Fen led quite the life: she took off for Paris when she was 19, became a dancer, and mingled with high society, eventually meeting Husband #1. Husbands #2 and #3 followed shortly after and Fen would have been comfortable – albeit a bit lonely – living in seclusion were it not for an urgent phone call from a lawyer. A cousin Fen had only met once passed away in an accident (along with her husband) and the couple’s two young daughters had no one else.
Now 28-year-old JC is finally realizing her dreams of pop stardom aren’t taking hold and she won’t be able to skate by on her looks for much longer. Meanwhile, 30-year-old Vivi is a successful doctor, though rather unlucky in love. Her fiance just ended their engagement – by text! – and she makes quick work of moving on.
Brad is a cop who has seen too many of these gruesome murders and wants nothing more than to catch the killer. Recently divorced, he spends his time with the dog his ex left behind (a poodle originally named Bitsy, though recently redubbed Flyin’), though a certain emergency room doctor has caught his eye.
I wish I could say Please Don’t Tell will leave you guessing, but I can’t. It’s ridiculously formulaic – I’m sure you can tell just from my descriptions of the characters who will wind up with whom (though at one point both Fen and JC have an interest in Adam, Fen’s ‘Intruder’ as she calls him.) Sadly, the killer’s identity is just as disappointing. From the moment he’s introduced it’s clear he’s Up To No Good. It felt like Adler was trying to throw the reader off guard by having two characters drive the same model of car, the car that just so happens to be coming up in witness interviews. Admittedly, for a while I was jumping back-and-forth. I thought for sure this character was the culprit, but maybe that character could be acting shady too.
Things went from bad to worse when the phrase OMG the psychotherapist was nuts! was used, not in dialogue, but in the actual narration. No, Elizabeth Adler. …just, no. Throw in multiple romances blossoming into instalove after a single meeting – and in Fen’s case, her first meeting with Adam involved a knife and a lot of blood. Then we have 30-year-old Vivi referring to “downstairs” whenever sex is involved.
I could have gotten past the overly cutesy dialogue and the romance if they had been my only issues. Unfortunately, Please Don’t Tell suffers from a SEVERE lack of editing. At one point the killer’s backstory talks about his junkie sister being hit and killed by a vehicle. Later in the story that same sister is the killer’s first victim; he raped and murdered her when he was 13. Does he have two sisters?? There’s also a really interesting motive that was abandoned: early in the book there’s talk of ‘saving’ these girls. That could have been fascinating had it been explored, rather than never brought up again. And why does he write “please don’t tell” on the post-its? We never find out.
More sloppy writing:
[The killer] had always been a meticulous man, even in the crimes he committed. Everything had to be in its place. He left no evidence around his home for his housekeeper to find..
That was on page 309. Less than ten pages later, on 317, the next victim is with this man and happens to walk past his open bedroom door:
She stopped at his door and stood, staring at his bed. On it was a black woolen ski cap. A small camera. A tripod. And a green post-it pad.
Not so meticulous now, are we? It doesn’t help matters that in this particular scene the man is already wearing a ski cap..why on earth would he be wearing a second?! The utter lack of attention paid to detail kept plowing full steam ahead as the novel progressed. Since when do police regularly carry AK-47s?
My last gripe was with Adler’s obsession with namedropping. Everyone wears designer clothes, watches, and shoes, any perfume mentioned is top-of-the-line, and in one scene, she felt compelled to describe a meal being cooked practically in real-time. She went over every single ingredient, stated how long it needed to be cooked, what went into preparing the food, etc.
Although Please Don’t Tell looked SO promising in the beginning, things quickly fell apart. Adults speaking and behaving like children, a mystery that just wasn’t, the sloppiest editing I’ve ever come across, and storylines that were abandoned halfway through led to this novel’s downward plunge. That said, it was fast-paced enough to keep me entertained (and reading), though my eyes were constantly rolling.