The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

Book Reviews Reading

The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly

With thanks to Gallery Books (an imprint of Simon and Schuster) and NetGalley, I recently finished reading The Bulleta debut novel by Mary Louise Kelly. The description was definitely intriguing, but I had no idea just how much I’d be drawn in by this incredible narrative.

From the publisher:

The Bullet
Author: Mary Louise Kelly
Hardcover, 368 pages
Published on March 17, 2015 by Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster
Source: Electronic advance reader’s copy, provided in exchange for review; all quoted material is from an uncorrected proof.

About the book:

Two words: The bullet.
That’s all it takes to shatter her life.

Caroline Cashion is beautiful, intelligent, a professor of French literature. But in a split second, everything she’s known is proved to be a lie.

A single bullet, gracefully tapered at one end, is found lodged at the base of her skull. Caroline is stunned. It makes no sense: she has never been shot. She has no entry wound. No scar. Then, over the course of one awful evening, she learns the truth: that she was adopted when she was three years old, after her real parents were murdered. Caroline was there the night they were attacked. She was wounded too, a gunshot to the neck. Surgeons had stitched up the traumatized little girl, with the bullet still there, nestled deep among vital nerves and blood vessels.

That was thirty-four years ago.

Now, Caroline has to find the truth of her past. Why were her parents killed? Why is she still alive? She returns to her hometown where she meets a cop who lets slip that the bullet in her neck is the same bullet that killed her mother. Full-metal jacket, .38 Special. It hit Caroline’s mother and kept going, hurtling through the mother’s chest and into the child hiding behind her.

She is horrified—and in danger. When a gun is fired it leaves markings on the bullet. Tiny grooves, almost as unique as a fingerprint. The bullet in her neck could finger a murderer. A frantic race is set in motion: Can Caroline unravel the clues to her past, before the killer tracks her down?

Immediate reaction when I finished this book:

Damn, that was good!

One of my favorite quotes from the book:

I had no idea whether this was the right way to go about disguising my tracks. I’m trained as a scholar of French literature, not as some wizard of antisurveillance tradecraft. But I’ve watched the same Bourne movies as everyone else, and Matt Damon’s character seems to embrace a pretty basic philosophy:  if you’re being chased, either find yourself a hell of a good hiding place, or else keep moving.

My thoughts:

Can you even imagine this scenario? Imagine a situation where you realize, after being alive for 37 years, that your history sounds like something out of a Criminal Minds episode. This is the reality that Caroline Cashion is hit with, quite literally, when she unwittingly discovers that she’s got a bullet lodged in the back of her skull. People start asking her the same question, over and over; people like doctors and friends and colleagues: “You never knew?” “Are you sure you don’t remember anything?” “You had no idea?” It’s jarring really, this new reality that puts a completely different perspective on everything she’s ever known, thought, and believed about herself and those around her.

The author skillfully guides readers through Caroline’s response; in one passage, Caroline is clearly struggling with the details that begin to unfold, following this revelation and those that follow:

All people have their secrets, and not just things they keep from you, but secrets about you. Things they hope you’ll never learn. You can share your home with someone, share all the silly, little details of life, share the soap, the sugar bowl, shoes – and you would never guess.

A somewhat disconcerting thought, as Caroline begins to slowly learn more and more about the secrets people have been keeping from her, from each other, from the world. She also seems to correlate a change in her personal history to a sense of freedom in moving forward. She doesn’t have to be the Caroline she’s always been, now that she’s discovering a new self; a self with a hidden bullet and so much more.

Something else felt different, too. I think I’ve mentioned that I’m not known for rash decisions, am not a taker of spur-of-the-moment trips. Yet here I sat, about to buy a ticket for a plane that left in eleven hours, to fly to an island that I’d never seen, to meet a stranger. I should have felt nervous, but instead, I felt invigorated. Sometime in the chaos of these last few weeks, I appear to have developed a taste for recklessness.

I was blown away by this story and finished this novel in less than two days (including a work day). It’s incredible to think that this is Kelly’s debut; she is an amazing storyteller, and her experience as a notable journalist is certainly evident. If you are able to uncover all of these secrets before Caroline does, then you are a much more intuitive reader than I am; I was hanging on for dear life, heart rate racing as I approached the final pages of this novel. I’m not giving away any spoilers here, and you should do yourself a favor and pre-order this one; you will not be disappointed.

About the author:

Mary Louise Kelly spent two decades traveling the world as a reporter for NPR and the BBC. Her assignments have taken her from grimy Belfast bars to the glittering ports of the Persian Gulf, and from mosques in Hamburg to the ruined deserts of Iraq. As an NPR correspondent covering the spy beat and the Pentagon, she reported on wars, terrorism, and rising nuclear powers. A Georgia native, her first job was working as a staff writer at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Kelly was educated at Harvard University and at Cambridge University in England. She lives in Washington, D.C., with her husband and their two children.