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.
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?
Mary Louise Kelly discusses her latest novel, 'The Bullet'
Read an Excerpt
Reading Group Guide
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 Bulle see more