A Mystery 'Bullet' Reveals Long-Kept Family Secrets The hero of Mary Louise Kelly's novel, The Bullet, discovers she has a bullet in her neck but doesn't know how it got there. Kelly tells NPR's Rachel Martin she was inspired by a true story.

A Mystery 'Bullet' Reveals Long-Kept Family Secrets

A Mystery 'Bullet' Reveals Long-Kept Family Secrets

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The hero of Mary Louise Kelly's novel, The Bullet, discovers she has a bullet in her neck but doesn't know how it got there. Kelly tells NPR's Rachel Martin she was inspired by a true story.


As an NPR correspondent, Mary Louise Kelly followed some pretty crazy tales. But her newest novel, a thriller called "The Bullet," was inspired by one of the strangest stories she had ever come across.

MARY LOUISE KELLY: I got the idea for this when I was at my son's Little League baseball game. And this other mom who I don't know very well plops down next to me and heaves a dramatic sigh and says, well, I've had a heck of a week. And I, you know, politely say, oh. And she holds up her wrist, and says, you know, I have for ages have had carpal tunnel or a side pain in my wrist, and they can't figure out why. And she had gone - long story short - to get an MRI. And as she was leaving the technician said how'd you get it? And this woman said what? And the technician said, the, you know, and she's pointing at her neck. And this woman says what are you talking about? And then the technician says how'd you get a bullet in your neck?

MARTIN: That's unreal.

KELLY: It's totally unreal. And I'm staring at this woman telling me this thinking, well, how do you get a bullet in your neck?

MARTIN: Yeah, really, what was the answer?

KELLY: And as I said, I don't know her that well. I'm lifting up her hair, looking is there a scar? I'm saying, you know, are you adopted? No - maybe don't know that you were adopted? Have you asked her parents? Grilling her - she has no idea.


KELLY: And so I'm driving home from this baseball game. I'm thinking is that even possible? And how do you get a bullet in your neck and not know it was there? And so in my novel, which I, you know, being a novelist now I went home and started noodling around with all these possibilities.

MARTIN: I mean, immediately did you think of that's a great idea, starting point?

KELLY: I'm thinking it's a great - it sounded like a pose story or something, just this great unresolved mystery. And how could that possibly happen in a way that would make an interesting suspense novel but that would be actually possible?

MARTIN: So we don't want to give it away because the beauty of this tale is it's suspense. But can you give us a little more contour to Caroline and the mystery that surrounds her?

KELLY: So Caroline discovers she has this bullet in her neck. She immediately goes and gets an x-ray and can actually see it. Like it's - this is no surgical clip that got dropped or, you know, some metal pin from an earlier surgery that moved around. It's a bullet. It's in her neck. How did it get there? She asks her parents, and it unfolds that she was adopted as a very young girl. Her parents were murdered in cold blood. She was shot in the same attack. Survived - the bullet was so close to her spinal cord that they couldn't get it out. And so they stitched her up and hoped for the best.

MARTIN: She's a pretty normal kind of young woman too. I mean, she's a little bit of a homebody in fact. What appealed to you about placing a woman like that in the middle of this incredibly dramatic mystery and saga?

KELLY: Well, that was exactly it. She's not your stereotypical protagonist of a suspense thriller. And certainly to me what it was interesting about writing Caroline and writing this story - there are hopefully a lot of interesting plot twists and action that keep it going. But it's very much a psychological suspense novel and about how Caroline discovers that she's not really who she thought she was, quite literally. She was adopted and had been raised by a different family than her biological parents - that the people around her aren't quite who she thought they were. And we are, all of us, capable of things we might never have imagined ourselves being capable of doing.

MARTIN: I imagine you also did some particular kind of research for this book. Did you get up close and personal with some firearms?

KELLY: I grew up in Georgia and grew up around guns. My father and brother are both hunters. But I had never handled a handgun. And in the book, again, without giving any major plot spoilers away, the bullet that's in Caroline's neck is from a 38 Special. And I'd never fired one. And I wanted to see what it looked like and what it would feel like to fire it. And I went to spend a day running around gun stores and firing ranges and learning to shoot. You know, it's the little things that end up mattering. So for example I didn't know because I'd never handled either a semiautomatic or a revolver, a revolver like a 38 doesn't eject the casings from the bullet right away. It's a reason that a lot of criminals prefer still to use a revolver as opposed to, like, a Glock semiautomatic because the casings don't automatically spit out. You have to eject them.

MARTIN: Have you seen that mom again at the baseball game who had the bullet?

KELLY: OK. So I did not bump into her for the two, three years since she first told me that story. And I kind of deliberately didn't seek her out because I didn't want to know how her story turned out since I had taken it, and then, you know, written a fictional - a completely fictional account of how this might have happened. But curiosity finally got the better of me, and I have since sat down and interviewed her. And it's just a great mystery. She's got a bullet in her neck, and she still doesn't know how it got there. So I'm hoping to persuade her to go in and do another x-ray and really look at that. And let me go along with her and find out what the real story of the bullet is.

MARTIN: The book is called "The Bullet." Mary Louise Kelly is the author. Thanks so much for talking with us, Mary Louise.

KELLY: My pleasure, thanks, Rachel.

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