Don’t Tell a Soul by Kirsten Miller

Title: Don’t Tell a Soul

Author: Kirsten Miller

Genre: Horror, Mystery

Year: 2021

In the dark, it made no difference if my eyes were open or shut.

Bram needs to get away from her life and the things that happened in her past. When the occasion presents itself, she leaves the city and goes to Louth, a small town where his uncle James is restoring an ancient manor in the hopes of making a hotel out of it.

But James is haunted by his own ghosts since the fire that killed his wife and destroyed half of his lovingly renovated manor. There are also other ghosts, or so the rumours say: they are called the Dead Girls, a list of young women who have disappeared after staying at the manor Bram calls home. But the locals are not too friendly with outsiders, and the more she investigates the past of these women, the more Bram start to fear she will be the next one.

A closer look

A haunted house, ghosts, and family secrets? Sign me in!
If you’ve been here for a while, you might have noticed that I have a weird fascination for this kind of stories, especially if the atmosphere is well realised. So when I stumbled into this book – which was not on my radar initially – I though I had found a new horror in which to sink my teeth.
Well.

Let me tell you about it.

Bram is going to Louth in the middle of a snowstorm to live for some time with her uncle James. She remembers him fondly from her childhood, even though in the last few years he hasn’t really been in touch. But she needs some time away from her life and past, and this is the perfect opportunity.
So she finds it a bit weird when her uncle sends a perfect stranger to pick her up at the station, and when she meets him at the manor he looks older and thinner, a shadow of his previous self.
James is eaten by his grief. His wife was killed in a fire that destroyed half of his manor and was apparently set by her daughter – Bram’s cousin – who is now impossible to reach, locked away in a centre to recover from her injuries.

But that’s not the strangest part. The room Bram is sleeping in has a painting on the wall, and she becomes obsessed with it and its story. Things move around in the dark. Soft steps can be heard during the night.
And as Bram tries to investigate what happened to her cousin, she uncovers the rumours about the Dead Girls – and realises that the town of Louth doesn’t like outsiders.

Let’s take my biggest issue out of the way first: this was in no way horror. If this book was supposed to scare me, it failed miserably. As a mystery, though, it worked much better.

The plot is a bit meandering, especially in the beginning. I understand that the author wanted to keep the reader guessing, but it was hard to care for the protagonist when I had no idea of what happened in her past to make her run away or what was her objective when she decided to go to Louth. It felt at times like she just needed some time off from her problems, at times like she went purposefully to find out what happened to her cousin, and then got wrapped up in the small town legends. There wasn’t a clear focus, so for a big part of it I was just following along without any idea of what the story was trying to do.

On the other hand, this worked well in keeping the mystery tightly wrapped. The reveals are many and scattered throughout the story, both regarding the protagonist’s past and the story of the Dead Girls. It’s not easy to predict all the twists and turns of the story, or its general direction, so at least that was fun.

The same things applies to the characters. They are difficult to understand. We come to know what other people think of them, and while it contrasts sharply with Bram’s impression, as readers we realise that all of it is extremely plausible and we constantly question their real intentions. It was fun, and it helped to create the impression that the protagonist couldn’t trust anyone – even when she wanted to.

If there’s something about the characters that I didn’t appreciate it’s the fact that, aside for one (1) guy, everyone else was disgustingly rich. Not only I find it hard to believe – all those rich teenagers grouped in a tiny little town? – but also a bit annoying. And I’m not even talking about moderately wealthy: I’m talking about a teen having tens of thousands of dollars worth of designer’s dresses just lying on the floor for no reason at all. It was also unnecessary; the story would have worked the exact same way without the characters waving their money in the readers’ face.

I also found Bram to be a little inconsistent at times. It’s established from the beginning that she is afraid of being assaulted, but somehow every time she does something/goes somewhere she ends up walking deserted streets almost in the dark, or accepting the invites of almost-strangers with little to no second thoughts until it’s too late to go back. I mean, this doesn’t happen once or twice during the novel, it literally happens ALL the time. At least stop thinking about how careful you are, will you?

She also constantly risks her life in stupid ways. She walks through the burnt halls of the mansion, where the floor is so damaged that she can see the rooms below through the holes. The thought that it might collapse under her feet doesn’t even touch her.
There’s a scene in which she follows someone in the snow without even putting on a jacket, and the character that finds her tells her that if she had remained out for a little longer she would have frozen to death. Yet not only she is fine, she doesn’t even catch a cold. Not even a single sneeze. A little unbelievable, if I’m being honest.

It was not a bad read by any means, but there were a lot of little things that annoyed me or didn’t make sense. I first had to rewire my expectations when I realised I wasn’t going to get any kind of horror; I then turned a blind eye every time the protagonist did something particularly stupid.
The mystery was what kept me going, because at least that part was well done: hard to figure out, but all the elements were there and it was interesting to have the whole picture by the end of the story.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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