Hallie Ephron’s fifth suspense novel show how a talented writer can find an unusual premise and make it work. You’ll Never Know, Dear brings three generations of strong women in the Woodham family together to solve a decades-old mystery.

When Lissie and her sister Janey were outside their South Carolina low-country home when Lissie’s attention is diverted by a puppy. When she returns, Janey has disappeared, and remains so for forty years. Despite the length of time, their mother, Miss Sorrel, places an ad every year in the paper that shows the doll she made for Janey, and offers a cash reward for its return, hoping this will be the clue that finds Janey.

Miss Sorrel is Lisse and Janey’s mother. Aided now by her neighbor, nurse Evelyn Dumont, the duo repair dolls, after a career of making hand-painted one-of-a-kind dolls that bear the face of the child who becomes their owners. She’s hoping even after all these years that the doll will be returned and be the key to Janey. And then suddenly, a young woman shows up with what Miss Sorrel is convinced is Janey’s doll.

Then a horrid accident put Miss Sorrel and Lissie in the hospital, and Lissie’s daughter, Vanessa, leaves her research project on dreams to help out. The three women will bind together, despite their differences, to try to solve the cold case and find out if Janey could possibly be alive. The women will need all of their smarts when they face evil.

The setting is definitely a character here, with small-town secrets and lazy warm days leaping off the page and adding to the southern gothic feel. Along with a realistic portrait of differing personalties within one family, readers will be delighted to learn the ins and outs of doll making and restoration, too, an added bonus to the suspense.

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