Monday, 31 December 2012

The Secret Keeper

 Author: Kate Morton
Type: E-book (NetGalley)
Genre: Historical Fiction
First Published: October 2012
Publisher: Atria books
First Line: "Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer's day at the start of the nineteen sixties."

Synopsis:  During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.  

Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London.  The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.

Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the Blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.

My Thoughts:  When I saw that a book by Kate Morton was being made available on NetGalley to review I jumped at the chance to request it.  When I got the go-ahead from the publisher I'm not ashamed to admit that I did a little happy dance.  Why?  Because I adore rich historical fiction sagas that are well-written and so descriptive that you can easily picture the scenes in your head.  Kate Morton is one of those author's who can take you back in time and write a story that keeps you interested yet throws you enough twists that make you change your initial assumptions about her wonderfully complex characters.  How's that for a recommendation!?

So did "The Secret Keeper" meet my expectations?  Oh, yes!  This is a wonderfully written combination of a family saga set in a rich, tumultuous historical setting and a murder mystery.  The book jumps back and forth from present day to the Blitz with many points of view.  And while this could make for a very muddled read, Ms Morton writes so seamlessly between the two eras while balancing the various viewpoints that this story and its characters quickly drew me in. 

I think what really helped to keep me interested was how my view of the main characters changed throughout the book.  As I learned more and more about the different main characters and what truly happened, I found myself changing my initial feelings towards them.  The innocent may not be so innocent.  One person's take on a situation may be influenced by various factors and therefore I now see them in a much different light.  I found myself rooting for various characters throughout the book and that helped me, not only learn more about the inner thoughts and motivations of the characters, but made them much more believable and authentic.  There are no clichéd, one-dimensional characters here.  Everyone is layered with the good, the bad and the not so lovely.

There are several main characters, each with a very distinctive voice. We have Laurel, the sixty year old woman who returns home to care for her ailing mother, Dorothy and is determined to figure out what she saw fifty years before.  Then there's Dorothy/Dolly who is portrayed as the ailing mother of Laurel in 2011 as well as during the WWII era where she is a young woman who is just trying to make ends meet during the tumultuous Blitz with her boyfriend, Jimmy.   By contrast, Vivien is the very vivacious and rich younger wife of her famous author husband, Henry. As the story unfolds, we see these characters' fates entangle with each other. What we initially thought about one character we may come to see in a very different light.

Another thing that I adore about historical fiction is that I get to learn about eras in history that I knew little or nothing about.  While I'd heard about the Blitz I cannot say that I knew much about it.  Ms Morton describes vividly what London was like during the Blitz.  The fear of the bombs, the loss, the hunger, followed after awhile by the normalcy of living with the bombings.  She brings a believable voice to a very horrible time.

Overall, I found that the wonderful characters and the turbulent era in which they lived paired with an ending that will surprise you makes this a very enjoyable read.  Highly recommended.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Note: My sincere thanks to Atria Books, Kate Morton and NetGalley for providing me with this complimentary copy of The Secret Keeper in exchange for my honest review.

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