The writing in this sophomore effort is just as fantastic as McManus’s debut, One of Us is Lying. You definitely feel like you’re in good hands when you’re reading her work. But in Two Can Keep a Secret, the story elements are not as tight and the interesting character depth doesn’t quite seem to be there.
Again, McManus’s writing flows BEAUTIFULLY, but some of the plotting and characters in this book seem like ideas, consciously placed, that don’t all fit together. Red herrings shoved in here and there that dangle loosely by the end. Events that you are led to think are related (and they should be because it’s a mystery, for crying out loud), then they aren’t, so you end up feeling a bit cheated. I was totally sucked into the build of the mystery, but once the reveals started happening, I felt disappointed.
As an example of some of the ‘ideas’ that seem stuck in but don’t quite fit, let me put forth the theme park near the small town the MC, Ellery, is visiting named, “Murderland,” then renamed “Fright Farm” after a murder actually happened on its property. So, I grew up in a small town and let me be clear: THERE ARE NO THEME PARKS IN SMALL TOWNS. In our small town, we had a couple of little restaurants and one movie theater, that played one movie, usually for an entire month at a time.
We were bored out of our tiny minds. People cow tipped. People went to the little mall on the outskirts of town and walked around. People huffed paint. (So I’ve been told). Believe me, if there was a theme park in our town, or any of the small towns around us, we’d have been there every night, with or without paint thinner.
So to have a theme park in a small town that is spooky and scary and actually named ‘Murderland,’ I just couldn’t believe it. And, if you’re going to include that, you might as well fully use it, play it up and make it campy, right? But she didn’t do that, so I was left feeling a little confused.
If you haven’t read McManus yet, then I’d recommend One of Us is Lying instead. It’s still got some stereotypes and H.S. clichés, but the characters have some very interesting depth and complexity, and the plot and pacing is excellent. Plus, it had me on the edge of my seat until the very last page.