TITLE: THE SECRET KEEPER
AUTHOR: KATE MORTON
PUBLISHER: PAN BOOKS
GENRE: GENERAL FICTION
COVER TYPE: PAPER BACK
I read Morton’s debut novel, The House at Riverton over a year ago. I thought it was great. I’ve wanted to read more of her work since then. I couldn’t resist The Secret Keeper when I saw it on the shelves at the library.
BLURB FROM THE COVER
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 fatally entwined…
Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer’s day at the start of the nineteen sixties. The house is unassuming, with white paint peeling gently on the Western side and clematis scrambling up the plaster. The chimney pots are steaming and you know, just by looking, that there’s something tasty simmering on the stove top beneath. It’s something in the way the vegetable patch has been laid out, just so, at the back of the house; the proud gleam of the leadlight windows; the careful patching of the roofing tiles.
I thought The Secret Keeper was great. Morton does a great job of building a web of intrigue and mystery. She knows how to tell a story. The narrative weaves effortlessly back and forth in time from 2011 to the 40’s and a few chapters that deal with the past of Vivien, an old friend of Lauren’s mother are set in the 20’s. When all the dots finally connected about two chapters from the end Morton blew me away.
I thought the title was very good. The Secret Keeper works really well. It gives the game away a little but I can live with that.
The characterisation in The Secret Keeper is excellent. Morton does a great job of bringing everyone to vivid life. The characters felt very real. I wanted to give Lauren a hug when she witnesses her mother stab a strange man to death. I was rooting for her as she tried to unravel the truth about her mother’s past and the dead man. My heart went out to Jimmy when Dorothy began to be cruelly dismissive of him because she thought he wasn’t good enough for her when she got a job as a companion to a rich old woman. I felt every blow Vivian did when her husband savagely beat her after he found out about her friendship with Jimmy. Morton does a great job of turning her characters into real people.
I love the way Morton structures The Secret Keeper. The narrative effortlessly moves back and forth in time. In 2011, Lauren’s mother Dorothy has dementia and is nearing the end of her life. Lauren decides to find out the truth behind the strange crime she witnessed in the 40’s. The narrative set in the 40’s gradually reveals the past of Dorothy, her friend Vivien, Dorothy’s boyfriend Jimmy and Vivien’s husband and the events that led to the crime Lauren witnessed. There are also a few chapters set in the 20’s that focus on Vivien’s past. Morton does a great job of gradually revealing backstory without bogging the story down. She also does a great job of building tension, mystery and encouraging you to read on by revealing important details one little grain at time.
Morton kept me guessing right until the end. I had no idea what the big ‘secret’ was. Vivien was a battered wife and her husband almost killed her when he found out about her innocent friendship with Jimmy. Dorothy is killed during an air raid and Vivien seizes this opportunity to take her place and let her husband believe she’s dead. Years later her husband turns up at her home. He calls her by her real name. She realises she’s been found out and kills him to stop him from destroying her life. I didn’t have a clue. Morton surprised me. I love it when that happens.
Morton is a gifted writer. I didn’t feel like any of the words she used in The Secret Keeper were wasted. No long descriptions and pointless rambling. Every word was perfect and necessary. I was impressed by her ability as a writer. She creates a real sense of place and offers a compelling read. I got completely caught up in the world she created and I was very sad to leave.
The Secret Keeper ticks all of the boxes for me. Morton offers us real, vivid and believable characters. The plot is original, compulsive and compelling. The quality of the writing was top form. I had a great time reading this. Morton has one other novel, The Distant Hours that I haven’t read. I will need to seek it out.