Author: Rachel Howzell Hall
One-night teenage Colette “Coco” Weber escaped her parent’s stifling home for a little forbidden fun; when she stumbled home, drunk, hoping to find her family blissfully asleep and unaware, she instead finds a scene of carnage. Blood everywhere, everyone dead.
Fast-forward twenty years. The man Colette’s fractured testimony condemned has spent two decades in prison for the murder of her entire family. DNA evidence has now proved what he stated all along: he was innocent. He’s out now and Colette has finally returned to Catalina Island, the allegedly crime-free paradise where her family was slaughtered.
Colette has moved into her parents’ house – one that was bought but never lived in. She’s avoided the rental where they were slaughtered. Colette has left behind a bitter ex-husband and is seeking this time on the island to confront her past, find a way to hock that diamond and ruby ring, and discover a new future for herself. Her thieving aunt Gwen, who’s moved into the family home, is hardly any help, and Colette’s new job as an obituary writer at her back-stabbing college buddy’s island paper is decidedly dead-end. But it’s a new beginning and it’s a safe place far away from her raging, belligerent ex, who wants his divorce papers and his ring back at any cost.
However, it soon seems as though history is repeating itself. Colette has barely made her way back to the island before she starts receiving death threats, strange phone calls, and evidence of trespassers walking through her home at night. Is this the man who she wrongly imprisoned seeking his revenge? Her angry ex? Her selfish aunt? The serial killer that escaped justice all these years and wants to finish what was started?
Meanwhile, old ladies are beginning to show up on the island, found dead in strange places. The sheriff says its age and coincidence, but Collette knows better than to believe in the fake safety of this place. Someone is killing here. Someone, apparently, never stopped.
What Never Happened is an absolutely addictive, atmospheric story of murder in paradise. Our beloved Coco is an empathetic but imperfect protagonist. She’s a literal mess, from her weave that will not stay in, to her shredded love life, to the deep scars of terror and remorse that liter her past. She can trust no one, and even her “friends,” including the two-faced glory stealing Maddy, are hardly sympathetic. Coco is in a world of her own, angry and resilient, yet scared and abandoned. The police didn’t listen to her 20 years ago, and they’re not listening or acting now.
As Coco tries to follow the threads, everyone around her becomes a suspect, from her too good to be true paramour to her quirky aunt to the neighborhood handyman. In this perfect island town, there is a deep history of seething hatred, of racism, of plotting and murder. The evidence is all literally laid out on a map. Yet no one is listening. As COVID-19 hits and the island goes into lockdown, Colette cannot escape. Time is running out to figure out who killed her family and who is trying to kill her. Colette cannot leave, cannot run. In the end, she will have her answers, but will she survive them, emotionally and physically?
What Never Happened is mesmerizing. The writing is tight, the atmosphere lush, the motivations, and interactions suitably weird and disturbing. Moments of anxiety crescendo and fall as Coco remembers the past and tries to fight against the escalating push from the islanders to leave. She makes the usual dumb decisions of all mystery heroines, yet because of her isolation she is forced to go out on a limb, and it makes the risk taking more believable, more inevitable, and the ending a heart-pounding showdown. Highly recommended. I put all my other books aside and flew through this engaging, sweltering little jewel in just a few days. I plan to seek out more stories from Rachel Howzell Hall and further explore the recesses of the mind, the extent of human wickedness and greed, and the never-ending effects of guilt and grief.
– Frances Carden
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