Monday 26 November 2012
Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
The Secret Keeper
by Kate Morton
Simon & Schuster
1961: On a sweltering summer's day, while her family picnics by the stream on their Suffolk farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out in her childhood tree house dreaming of a boy called Billy, a move to London, and the bright future she can't wait to seize. But before the idyllic afternoon is over, Laurel will have witnessed a shocking crime that changes everything. 2011: Now a much-loved actress, Laurel finds herself overwhelmed by shades of the past. Haunted by memories, and the mystery of what she saw that day, she returns to her family home and begins to piece together a secret history. A tale of three strangers from vastly different worlds - Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy - who are brought together by chance in wartime London and whose lives become fiercely and fatefully entwined. Shifting between the 1930s, the 1960s and the present, The Secret Keeper is a spellbinding story of mysteries and secrets, theatre and thievery, murder and enduring love.
Laurel's idyllic home life is shattered on the day that she sees her mother kill a man on their front driveway from her hiding place in the tree house. The police are called, investigations are pursued and it's agreed all around that the man had been a stalker terrorising the neighbourhood and that Dorothy Nicolson acted in self-defence. But it was only later after the police have gone that Laurel realises something: the man had addressed her mother by her name. Who was he? What was the secret which was so terrible that Dorothy would rather kill than have it come to light?
Now in her sixties, Laurel's mother is dying and Laurel is determined to find out the truth about her mother's past, even if that means finding out things she'd rather not know. The book veers between Laurel's investigations in the present, seeking out the help of her brother Gerry, a scatter-brained scientist (a cliché I thought had died out years ago) and the past lives of three people who were intertwined in the past: Dorothy, Jimmy and Vivien. The book takes us from 1920s Australia, to England in the 1930s and 1940s, including the second world war.
I have to say the parts with Laurel investigating things fell almost flat for me; it was as if she wasn't a character in her own right, but just there to piece all of the puzzle together. Parts of it were a bit long and rambling without really going anywhere, I think it could have been a third shorter and still would have made a good book.
I enjoyed the parts about wartime London, everything was brought vividly to life but without it becoming a history lesson, from the nightly air-raids to the food rationing.
There is a twist at the end I didn't see coming, which was a nice surprise, but a lot of things felt a bit contrived, such as Laurel finding letters or journals that explained a lot of the things she was trying to find out. I don't think things would have worked out that tidily in real life.
The writing is mostly good, with the author having some good turns of phrase. She's got a good ear for dialogue and finding out what the secrets were kept you guessing right till the end.
It's a good book, but with a bit of trimming, it could have been better.
Reviewed by Annette Gisby
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