Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Secret Keeper (Book Review)

Title: The Secret Keeper
Author: Kate Morton
Publication Information: Simon & Schuster/Atria Hardcover, October 2012
Genre: Fiction
Plot: As her mother approaches death, Laurel Nicolson, an acclaimed actress, remembers a day and a secret from her childhood that has always haunted her – she was hiding in a tree when a stranger approached her mother, who stabbed him to death with the knife usually saved for birthday cakes. Laurel gave information to the police that supported her mother’s explanation of self-defense but is now determined to find out what really happened that summer day, causing her to leave home and never fully regain the easy, affectionate family life of her childhood.
Starting with just an inscription in a book and a photo from London in the 40s, Laurel traces the fatal friendship between her mother, Dorothy Smitham, a put-upon companion to a cranky but aristocratic old lady, and her glamorous neighbor, Vivien Jenkins. Dorothy’s sweetheart from the country, Jimmy Metcalfe, photographed Dolly and Vivien together as London faced World War II and the Blitz, providing one clue. As Laurel unlocks the secrets of the past, she finally understands what caused her mother to act so deliberately when her family was threatened and can console the dying woman.

What I liked: I always enjoy books that move back and forth from the present to the past, and this is something Morton is especially good at. Her descriptions of present-day Laurel and her squabbling sisters, all in their sixties, are all too convincing but more compelling is the depiction of Dolly Smitham, an ambitious young woman in London during WWII, determined to better herself, and yearning for a friend who represents the casual elegance and social confidence she seeks. Dolly is so desperate to achieve her goals that she loses sight of reality and does not realize that Vivien has problems of her own. Dolly is judged hardly by those around her but I felt a lot of sympathy for a young woman with no family trying to make her way alone in London. And I always like a book set in WWII England!
Other authors I enjoy who glide gracefully from the present to the past are Robert Goddard, Susanna Kearsley, Suzanne Brockmann, and Anthony Price.

What I disliked: I was disappointed in Morton’s last book, The Distant Hours. Although well written, the story was just too depressing and the characters too eccentric. Both the past and present left me indifferent (although I supposed I cared sufficiently that I kept on reading). Here, I was not as interested in the present day characters as in the romantic triangle of the past but eagerly followed Laurel’s research and her decision to confide in her brother, and I liked the way each discovery was interposed with the past. The three main characters – Dolly, Jimmy, and Vivien – were compelling and the long-buried secret was worth waiting for (which is not always the case). I will say that Laurel’s research was accomplished with unconvincing ease but I appreciated the missing pieces. I will reread some segments more slowly now.
Verdict: Highly recommended! 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Covers: The top cover is the American edition (following the look Atria has given the previous books), the second cover is from the UK, and the one with the hat is from the author's native Australia. I like the second one best but what is she touching?  The third one has a dated WWII look I find appealing but would not have been accepted by a US publisher.  Which do you like best?

Source: Simon & Schuster sent me an advanced reading copy prior to publication.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the last cover, but then I love the "dated" look!