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For some unknown reason, my guilty pleasure reading is True Crime. I’ve read a fair amount of crappy books in this genre, and also the “higher quality” titles from authors such as M. William Phelps, which are generally fairly well written. So I was happy to read an advance copy a Don’t Tell a Soul (provided by Kensington Books/Pinnacle and NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I had never heard of this case, so I wasn’t aware of killer’s identity when I began the book, although of course as soon as I read that a woman named Cherry Walker was missing, I knew who the victim was!  Cherry was a devoted and trusting young woman who happily took over the regular role of babysitter when a friend (who had previously been the babysitter) asked her if she wanted to babysit to earn some money. As the story unfolds, we learn that the little boy’s mother often left him at Cherry’s apartment for days on end, and he was generally hungry and dressed in ragged clothes. Cherry, at age 39,  spent hours (days, actually) with the little boy, playing with him like she was his playmate rather than a responsible adult.  We learn that she had only recently moved out of her parents’ house to live on her own, because she was “mentally retarded” (their term, not mine) and functioned at the level of a 6- to 9-year old.

Red flags!!! Seriously, what kind of mother would leave her young child in the care of someone with such limitations? It turns out that boy’s mother, Kim Cargill, was the WORST kind of mother. She had four children (with 4 different fathers) and she was abusive and cruel to all of them. Her ex-husbands tried to get custody to save their kids, but somehow Kim generally managed to avoid losing custody. Finally, as the court date nears for the custody hearing for the child Cherry babysits, Kim is horrified that Cherry has been asked testify in court against the child’s abusive mother. Sadly, Cherry never got the chance. On the Saturday before the scheduled Wednesday hearing, Cherry’s body was found on the side of a road, after being doused with lighter fluid and set on fire.

The book has the expected narrative style of a book by M. William Phelps, and pulls the reader along on a path of increasing horror as Kim’s behavior toward her children and their fathers is revealed. If you don’t know the story (as was the case for me), it may be difficult to read, although there is a straight retelling of the facts of the case, rather than a gratuitously violent recitation of  the horrible events. If you DO know the story, I expect there will be quite a bit of “aha” moments, that somewhat explain how this woman came to be the monster who killed Cherry Walker. I truly hated Kim by the end of the book.

I did appreciate the fact that I didn’t know that Kim was white and Cherry was African-American until I saw the photos at the end of the book, because race was not relevant – Kim was equally cruel and vicious regardless of race. I also appreciated that Phelps went to some lengths to elaborate on the opportunities he had given Kim or her family to present her version of the story.

Fans of the true crime genre in general and Phelps in particular will want to read this. Four stars.