Friday, April 7, 2023

Book Review: You Should Have Known

By Jami Denison

Getting old sucks, the joke goes, but it’s better than the alternative. 

You Should Have Known, Rebecca Keller’s debut mystery, features a 72-year-old protagonist, and is written in such a smooth first-person point of view that reading it made me feel two decades older. What’s it like when your life shrinks to a small apartment? When reaching down in the shower risks a fall? What does it feel like when your best moments are all in your past? And when that past comes back to haunt you… or presents opportunities for revenge? 

Frannie (Francine) Greene is a retired nurse and widow with two grown children. She’s already downsized to a condo, and after a few falls, her children have insisted that she move into an independent living facility that can seamlessly support its residents as they continue to age. At first, Frannie feels like a twelve-year-old at a new school – where will she sit for meals? How can she make friends? But then she meets Katherine, a courtly, genteel southern woman, who lives on the campus with her husband. A retired judge, Nathaniel usually keeps Katherine on a tight leash, but when he goes out of town for a week, the women bond, taking walks and watching The Young and the Restless together. But Frannie keeps quiet about the tragedies in her life – her granddaughter Bethany was killed by a drunk driver, and her daughter Iris attempted suicide as a result of her grief. 

When Nathaniel returns, Frannie makes a horrifying connection – he was the judge who sentenced Bethany’s killer to home confinement, a man who was later accused of accepting bribes that kept the driver on the road when he should have been in jail. Overcome with anger and grief, fantasizing about ways to get even, Frannie notices that the night nurse leaves the medication cart unattended in the evenings. And Nathaniel takes the same medication her late husband did… 

I’m not 72, and I haven’t had the tragedies that Frannie had, but Keller put me right in Frannie’s shoes. Her characterization is so compelling, I thought the author was in her seventies. (She has a mother who lives in one of these facilities.) The relationships feel authentic – from Frannie’s deep connections to her children and grandchildren, to the new ties she forms with the residents of the retirement home.  And Keller does a masterful job at weaving in all the other threads that the novel presents: immigration, sexism, racism, even religion. 

The pacing is a little slower than most murder mysteries tend to be, but that felt like a natural result of the age of the protagonist and the story’s setting. There was a plot point I found unbelievable – that the relatives of a sick elderly person would request an autopsy – but as a writer, I understood it was necessary to drive the last third of the book. 

Overall, You Should Have Known is a compelling novel that, thematically, goes beyond the plot to ask deeper questions about the responsibilities people have to each other, and the ripple effects of their actions. While retirement gives folks ample time to ponder what they’ve done over the course of their lives, it’s never too soon to start asking these questions.  

Thanks to Kaye Publicity for the book in exchange for an honest review.

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