Caroline Stewart is a secretary at a college and beginning a romance with new professor Max Hunter. But she hides a big secret. Seven years ago, when she was known as Mary Grace Winters, she faked her death to escape from her vicious, abusive husband, Rob Winters, a police officer. Even now, she still lives in fear that he might find her and her fourteen-year-old son Tom.
When her car is pulled out of a lake, the jig is up. Rob quickly figures out that she is still alive, and is obsessed with finding her, and particularly his son. The FBI also get involved, with Special Agent Steven Thatcher eventually discovering Mary Grace faked her death - and that Rob is indeed a murdering psychopath.
Caroline, of course, has no actual idea that her psychotic husband is after her. She's all caught up in her new romance with Max, but both have a mountain-load of issues to work out before their relationship can be successful.
This is Karen Rose's first novel, and clearly not one of her best. The plot is a fairly simple "Sleeping With The Enemy" knock-off that blows out to over 500 pages thanks to a seemingly never-ending supply of emotional turmoil for the characters to sort through. It really is ridiculous, even by the standards of this genre. Caroline, of course, has her past as a severely abused wife to work through. As for Max, he blames himself for an accident in which his father was killed and also ended his hopes for a career as a star basketball player.
And that's just for starters! Max is still bitter over his forced career change from sports star to college professor. He's embarrassed by the cane he now has to use to walk, and the scars he has from his accident. But wait - Caroline has scars too from her abusive marriage and worries what Max might think if he sees her naked.
Caroline never had a family she could rely on, but Max has a loving family he keeps running away from. She can't marry him because legally she's still married to Rob and she would never want to be a bigamist. But is she really just wary of trusting again? Max thinks she doesn't want to marry him because....
OH MY GOD, KILL ME NOW
There's more where that came from, but this review would blow out to about 300 pages trying to fit it all in. Basically, "Don't Tell" is about 20% thriller and 80% hand-wringing soap opera dramatics. Heck, even Special Agent Steven Thatcher could have been removed from the proceedings entirely and it wouldn't have affected much. There's not much suspense when your main character doesn't even know she's in any danger. There's just lots of padding until - boom! OH MY GOD HE'S FOUND HER! There are far too many characters running around in the book's busy finale, and the cringeworthy moments really build in the final chapters, too.
Karen Rose has gotten much better since this first effort, and her books are usually good enough to be worth slogging through the main characters' anguished backstories. Not so much here. I found myself wishing that Caroline and Max would have heeded the advice of the title "Don't Tell", and spared me all their torturous insecurities.