Children don’t require of their parents a past and they find something faintly unbelievable, almost embarrassing, in parental claims to a prior existence.
Sixteen-year old Laurel Nicolson had just gone up to her tree house, to get away from the bustling household and to dream about her crush, when she sees something terrifying - a strange man walking up their driveway, greeting her mom and then her mother kills the man with a knife. Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful actress and the second most popular face in the country when she returns back to her ancestral town, where her mother is dying in a hospital. Revisiting the home that she grew up in brings to surface all those memories from that dark year when she witnessed the crime. Now, more than ever, she wants to find out what happened that day and why her usually cheerful mother committed an act she couldn't fathom. What she discovers, however, is a whole strange world of the 1940s about which not all she learns puts her mother in a good light.
Kate Morton is an author who pops up often in my radar. Although I don't typically read historical fiction, her books still somehow appealed to me quite a lot. I remember seeing The Secret Keeper on a few blogs over the last few months, and this month, one of my online book clubs was reading it - so I took the opportunity to finally read Kate Morton AND complete one item from my no-pressure plans for 2013.
The Secret Keeper had several elements going on in it - plenty of suspense, a lot of strong characters, fast-paced writing, a healthy amount of romance, and quite a few human fallacies and intricacies. It is mainly the story of four people - Laurel, her mother Dorothy, and two people Dorothy knew in her past life - Jimmy and Vivian. The chapters go back and forth between the past and the present, but they mostly revolve around Dorothy. Laurel is trying to find out what horrendous act her mother was running away from - she is terrified of finding something so drastic that she worries her impression of her mother could change.
I could understand why. Dorothy of the past was too proud. She liked to distance herself from her commoner parents, who had no ambition and expected her not to have any big dreams. She liked to imagine herself walking arm-in-arm with the rich and the fashionable, she wanted her boyfriend Jimmy to humor her when she wanted to play make believe tales of being rich. Jimmy, on the other hand, had no patience for such games - having lost his mother to a rich man, and trying to look after a father with demetia, he knows too well how important money is if he wanted to have a happy married life. But Dolly's yearning for extreme richness worries him. And annoyed me a tad too much. While I ordinarily love it when someone aims for the skies, Dolly didn't understand that there was a clear line, however narrow, between wanting to be richer and acting like she was a Queen.
When I finished two-thirds of the book, I figured that the suspense was winding down and thought I had put together all the pieces well. Morton proved me wrong. Not only was a whole new perspective introduced in the last one-third, there were still some twists coming up. And that ending - woot! That just blew me away and in a good way. After all the nasty characteristics of Dorothy were revealed, I was very curious about how that would leave Laurel. It was a wonderful way to end the book.
Although there were a couple of details that I felt far-fetched, overall, I found The Secret Keeper quite enthralling. It had something in store for almost every kind of reader - I appreciated the well-constructed mystery and its fast pacing best. I also liked how this book addressed some interesting questions - the one thought that remained with me was how can someone deal with the embarrassing/disappointing details of their parent's past - what would you do if you learned that your parent was not perfect but instead committed acts that would sadden anyone close to them.
I borrowed this book from the good old library.