From former NPR correspondent Mary Louise Kelly comes a heart-pounding story about fear, family secrets, and one woman's hunt for answers about the murder of her parents.
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: 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.
Caroline 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. Can Caroline unravel the clues to her past before the killer tracks her down?
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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, from mosques in Hamburg to the ruined deserts of Iraq. As an NPR correspondent covering the intelligence 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 and at Cambridge University in England. She lives in Washington, DC, and Florence, Italy, with her husband and their two children.
Original bio sent from Cassandra:
Cassandra Campbell began doing voice overs as the voice for Calvin Klein's Italian commercials. This was followed by commercial and documentary recording in both English and Italian. She has recorded many audiobooks and has received several AudioFile Earphones Awards as well as an Audie(R) Award nomination. As an actress and director, she has worked at the Public, the Mint, the Berkshire Theatre Festival, Stagewest, Theatreworks, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival, Millmountain Theatre, the National Shakespeare Company, and the New York Fringe Festival.
Read an Excerpt
My name is Caroline Cashion, and I am the unlikely heroine of this story. Given all the violence to come, you were probably expecting someone different. A Lara Croft type. Young and gorgeous, sporting taut biceps and a thigh holster, right? Admit it.
Yes, all right, fine, I am pretty enough. I have long, dark hair and liquid, chocolate eyes and hourglass hips. I see the way men stare. But there’s no holster strapped to these thighs. For starters, I am thirty-seven years old. Not old, not yet, but old enough to know better.
Then there is the matter of how I spend my days. That would be in the library, studying the work of dead white men. I am an academic, a professor on Georgetown University’s Faculty of Languages and Linguistics. My specialty is nineteenth-century France: Balzac, Flaubert, Stendhal, Zola. The university is generous enough to fly me to Paris every year or so, but most of the time you’ll find me in the main campus library, glasses sliding down my nose, buried in old books. Every few hours I’ll stir, cross the quad to deliver a lecture, scold a student requesting extra time for an assignment—and then I return to my books. I read with my legs tucked beneath me, in a soft, blue armchair in a sunny corner of my office nook on the fourth floor. Most nights you will also find me there, sipping tea, typing away, grading papers. Are you getting a sense for the rhythm of my days? I lead as stodgy a life as you can imagine.
But it was by doing just this, by following this exact routine, that I came to schedule the medical appointment that changed everything.
For months, my wrist had hurt. It began as an occasional tingling. That changed to a sharp pain that shot down my fingers. The pain got worse and worse until my fingers turned so clumsy, my grip so weak, that I could barely carry my bags. My doctor diagnosed too much typing. Too much hunching over books. To be precise—I like to be precise—he diagnosed CTS. Carpal tunnel syndrome. He suggested wearing a wrist splint at night and elevating my keyboard. That helped, but not much.
And so it was that I found myself one morning in the waiting room of Washington Radiology Associates. I was scheduled for an MRI, to “rule out arthritis and get to the bottom of what’s going on,” as my doctor put it.
It was the morning of Wednesday, October 9. The morning it all began.
Reading Group Guide
This reading group guide for The Bullet includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.
Caroline Cashion is a mild-mannered professor of French with a stable, loving family and a happy, if uneventful, life. She never expects that a checkup for wrist pain would lead to the shocking revelation that there is a bullet embedded in her neck, which reveals that she is the sole survivor of a brutal murder that killed her birth parents and changed her fate forever. As she attempts to unravel the mystery of her childhood trauma, Caroline must quickly come to terms with the fact that she isn’t the only one with dark secrets. Someone is invested in making sure that a decades-old crime is never solved . . . and he or she is willing to kill to make sure that the past stays covered.
Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. “ ‘We love you. We always will. No matter what, you are our daughter.’ I stared at him. Those were the most frightening words I’d heard yet.” (page 21). Early on in the book, Kelly sets up a relationship between love and fear. How does this play out as The Bullet progresses? Think of several examples in Caroline’s life, as well as for the Smiths and Sinclares.
2. Caroline is a professor, dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge. Still, would you say that knowledge makes Caroline happy? Why or why not?
3. Do you find Caroline a likable character? What details signal to us that we can trust her, and in what ways does the author work to endear her to the reader, before the book’s shocking end? Consider her appearance, habits, relationships, and hobbies.
4. Look at the beginning of chapter 10, when Caroline first visits the house on Eulalia Road where her parents were killed. Can you relate to Caroline’s desire to relive her past, even in its most disturbing and heartbreaking moments?
5. Knowing the details of her parents’ lives makes Caroline feel closer to them, yet the book’s opening prologue suggests that those intimate details can mask larger truths. Which do you think are more important in this book, in the end?
6. Maternal characters are very important in the novel, from Sadie Rawson (who literally takes a bullet for Caroline), to Madame Aubuchon, to her mother in DC. Compare and contrast these characters, as well as other “mothers” in the text. What do you think the author is trying to say about the complex nature of motherhood?
7. On page 170, Beasley and Caroline discuss the nature of closure. How does Caroline’s sense of what this means change over the course of the novel?
8. Should Verlin Snow have been required to confess? Do you understand the reasons for his actions, or find them morally wrong? Discuss with your book club.
9. Do you think justice is served for Caroline and the Smiths in the end? Why or why not?
10. “Sometimes, to heal, we need time alone.” (page 266) In what ways does her decision to go to Paris help Caroline? What does she learn or do there that might harm her?
11. Why do you think Caroline decides to let go of the bullet, in the end? Would you have done the same?
12. Author Alice LaPlante praised The Bullet by calling it “at once a thriller [and] a medical mystery.” Did you find Caroline’s story believable, in the way many medical mysteries are? What techniques did the author use in order to heighten this book’s credibility and verisimilitude?
Enhance Your Book Club
1. What’s in a name? Caroline is relieved to discover that the Cashions did not change her birth name, but she also becomes “Tammy” and “Simone” over the course of the novel. With your book club, find a baby name book or reference website and look up the attributes of several character names from The Bullet. Then, look up the meanings of the names for each of your club members, and discuss whether you think they match each of your personalities.
2. Make an appointment to take your book club to a local shooting range. Compare your accuracy: the best shot gets bragging rights!
3. Caroline is a devout foodie. Feed your book club with some of the dishes she describes so delectably in the novel—think sweet potato pancakes, Madame Aubuchon’s garlicky chicken cassoulet, or even Caroline’s Parisian go-to meal of baguette with raspberry jam. Top it off with an aptly named rye cocktail, like the Revolver: http://liquor.com/recipes/the-revolver/
4. Research some of author Mary Louise Kelly’s journalism—you might consider playing one of her pieces for NPR at your book club. Compare and contrast her voice in her nonfiction work versus in The Bullet. Do you think her personality comes through in both genres of her writing? How can you tell?
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Book is well-written, with an intriguing premise at the start, but the story takes a sharp turn in the last fourth of the book that results in a disappointing ending.
Excellent book - I always enjoyed Mary Kelly on NPR. This book was written very well and quick moving. I enjoy it and read it in a weekend. It kept me engrossed until the very end.
Looking for a bubble gum predictable book? This isn't it. What you believe to be simple is not. Good read.
This is the first book I've read by by Mary Louise Kelly. Her writing is crisp, fast paced, and enjoyable. I really felt that I knew the characters and was driven to keep turning the pages until the end. Plenty of twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. Kelly deftly challenges the reader to answer unusual questions, like what would you do if you discovered a bullet in your neck? Would you seek answers, and would they be worth it if your life was completely changed? Highly recommended!
COMPELLING SUSPENSE .... In THE BULLET, by Mary Louise Kelly, a 37-year-old Georgetown University professor has an MRI to discover why she has tingling and sharp pain in her wrist and finds out she has a bullet lodged in her neck. The problem is she doesn't remember how or when she received such an injury. There are no scars, no evidence that she'd ever been wounded. Thus begins Caroline Cashion's search for the truth about her life, who she is, and how she came to have a bullet in her body. That night she finds out from her family that she was adopted after her real parents were brutally murdered thirty-four years ago. She was shot in the attack, but the bullet was too close to important nerves and blood vessels, so the doctors decided to leave it in her body. Caroline travels to Atlanta, her original hometown, to try and find out what happened to her and her parents. She contacts a policeman who worked on the case and finds that the murderer still hasn't been identified. Though the main characters are fairly well developed, I didn't feel a lot of empathy for any of them. My perfect book is when I, as the reader, am transported into the story. Not only do I feel I'm part of the action, I know the characters inside and out. This didn't happen in THE BULLET. From the beginning, Caroline is telling you her story. Like you're a therapist and she's sharing her reason for needing your help. You don't feel particularly involved in the turn of events, but you still listen, as she's an compelling narrator with a fascinating story to tell. The story, told in first person, past tense, is full of interesting twists and turns that keep the reader riveted to the action. But as Caroline gets closer to the finish, the narrative bogs down a bit. Don't get me wrong. It's still an enjoyable story. And it has a good ending. So keep reading! If you like suspense stories with an unusual premise and filled with surprises, THE BULLET is a perfect novel for you. It's engrossing and gripping and is a wonderful book to read on a rainy day or while relaxing on vacation. If You Like This, You Might Like : TRACERS SERIES by Laura Griffin, FORGOTTEN FILES and THE MORGANS OF NASHVILLE series by Mary Burton, MAX REVERE NOVELS by Allison Brennan, ALL THE MISSING GIRLS by Megan Miranda, GOOD AS GONE by Amy Gentry, WITH MALICE by Eileen Cook * Read my other reviews on the Blue Moon Mystery Saloon blog. ** An e-galley was provided by Gallery Books and Edelweiss for an honest review.
THIS IS A MUST READ! HIGHLY RECOMMEND. Have now read both of her books and can't wait until the next one. Don't miss this one.
I gave the book a rating of 3 but feel it should be a 2 star. The story line was good but at times the writing became too cutesy. The reason for the 2 star. It would have been better if the author had written it straight without attempting the insert of humor. The ending was interesting. That is what made it a 3 star.
The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly The Bullet is a dynamic modern mystery. A routine modern medical test will change the life of the reclusive French Literature Professor. Her routine life, predictable and comfortable will be over turned as the mystery of her life comes to light. She is the lone survivor of a murderous assault to her biological parents. The hardest part to reconcile is that she may be carrying the last part of the evidence lodged in her neck. Will she find out the truth, and will her parents killers come to justice. The book is unpredictable in nature with developed characters and unpredictable twists and turns.
VERDICT: With an original plot and irresistible suspense, The Bullet pulls you into in-depth mystery territory: where do you come from? Who are you? Who can be trusted? Can you really know others to take revenge yourself? Great thriller inviting you to look at life differently. The synopsis of this book grabbed me –though incidentally I think it reveals too much. I’m glad I requested The Bullet. This was an amazing thriller that I had hard time putting down. Caroline, 37, teaches French literature. Bothered for several months by some weird pains in a wrist, she finally goes for an MRI. There, they discover she actually has a bullet in her neck. She is totally shocked, as she has no memory of having been shot. When she tells her parents, they act weird. Little by little she learns more about her past, how the bullet got there. But who really shot that bullet? Not too much helped by the police, she decides to uncover the whole story and track the killer herself. But if he learns she is still alive, wouldn’t he want to track her himself? Be ready for a great ride. I enjoyed how the author treated the theme of the unknown: unknown about others, about your own close family, your own past, and your own personality even. This gave great unusual depth to this thriller. You think you know what you are capable of. Then one day you discover that, quite literally, you are not the person you thought you were. I also liked how the plot went from mystery to mystery. Meeting each new character, I tried to guess which one could have been the killer, and why. Of course I failed, which is always a proof that this is a well-built mystery! The suspense is increased by the story going in between Washington and Atlanta, and even Europe. There is of course the theme of family: who is your real family? Your biological parents? Strangers who took care of you? And in the background is suffering: inner suffering as you discover where you are coming from, but also physical pain and all the possible threats to the body: if you keep a bullet in your neck, you can suffer from lead poisoning, but the surgery can also leave you handicapped. What are you going to do, especially when you know that the bullet may help identify the killer even if it happened 30 years before. There’s even an element of romance, if that’s your thing.
I loved the first 85% of this novel so much that the end of it wasn't enough to lower my rating, although I thought it really started to fall apart at that point. I was disappointed in that last 15 percent, and was not at all satisfied with the conclusion. However, the rest of the book, I found completely thrilling. The main character, Caroline Cashion, was great during this major portion of the story, and I really felt for all she was going through. I cannot begin to imagine how it would be to discover such things about yourself at that age. I really enjoyed her relationship with her family, and I was touched by how close she was to her parents and brothers. The storyline was so compelling, and it kept me on the edge of my seat. At age 37, Professor Caroline Cashion is suffering from wrist pain believed by her doctor to be caused by carpal tunnel syndrome. When she can get no relief from the pain, an MRI is ordered and shockingly shows what appears to be a bullet lodged next to her skull. An X-ray confirms that there is actually a bullet there, and Caroline is sent reeling, as she had no idea she'd ever been shot. When she confronts her parents, a story that is almost unbelievable to her comes out. Caroline was adopted as a three year old after the murder of her parents, at which time she was also shot and left for dead. As Caroline tries to wrap her mind around the truth of her past, she also has to make decisions about the bullet that seems to have shifted in its dangerous location. Caroline travels from her home in Washington, D.C. to where she spent her early childhood in Atlanta, in order to find as much information as possible about her past and her parents. The shocking things she discovers will have enormous impact on Caroline and her future. This book was so good for most of the story. Caroline and her family were wonderful characters, and I even felt a connection to and some sympathy for Will Zartman, Carline's doctor. I was so sorry to see the book start to go off the rails near the end, and then never find the way back on track. I struggled with my rating since I was so disappointed by the last part, but until then, I was certain that it was going to go to the top spot of my favorite books of the year so far. This is a book that I will not forget, so I made the decision to go with 5 stars, even though the book has issues.
The author spent more time trying to convince the reader that the protagonist was beautiful that it distracted from the story.