The Secret Keeper
by Kate Morton
Release Date: October 9th, 2012
2012 Atria Books
Hardcover Edition; 481 Pages
Source: Review copy from publisher
4 / 5 Stars
1961 England. Laurel
Nicolson is sixteen years old, dreaming alone in her childhood tree
house during a family celebration at their home, Green Acres Farm. She
spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and then observes
her mother, Dorothy, speaking to him. And then she witnesses a crime.
years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living
in London. She returns to Green Acres for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday
and finds herself overwhelmed by memories and questions she has not
thought about for decades. She decides to find out the truth about the
events of that summer day and lay to rest her own feelings of guilt. One
photograph, of her mother and a woman Laurel has never met, called
Vivien, is her first clue.
The Secret Keeper is an enjoyable novel with a dual narrative that cleverly reveals the "big mystery" through engaging story writing and a fairly original plot. One of the big draws for me in this novel is definitely the writing style as Ms. Morton has a way of drawing you into the story and reluctantly letting you go; I had a very hard time putting this book down. And yet, there were moments while I was reading that I was wondering what the point of this whole narrative was, other than a really good story, but was it really necessary to have everything so drawn out for this mystery? Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed reading it as Ms. Morton is a skilled storyteller and I couldn't help but be swept into the events and the characters, but for the actual mystery itself, I do have to admit, upon reflection, that it was kind of drawn out and some parts were perhaps unnecessary.
The plot in this novel swung from events in war-torn London during World War II to modern times as Laurel comes to terms with a crime she witnessed as a sixteen-year old girl. As the crime involved her own mother, a woman she completely adored, Laurel decides to delve into the past and find out for herself the secret that her mother has been hiding for over 50 years. This sets in motion the dual narrative that makes up the rest of the novel as we learn about Laurel's search for the truth as well as Dorothy's past in London in 1942 during the Blitz. The author's use of this dual narrative was quite seamless and the transitions back and forth in time flowed smoothly and easily. I couldn't really decide which narrative I preferred, but as a history buff who teaches the world wars to high school students, I couldn't help but be fascinated by the descriptions of war-torn London and enjoyed learning more about a subject that I find interesting. An incredible amount of research would have been needed to write about this time period, and I have to credit the author with her vivid descriptions and portrayal of a time period that is hard for most of us to comprehend, I think. And while I did enjoy the descriptions tremendously, I do have to admit that non-history buffs may not be quite so enthusiastic and may find the plot to be cumbersome.
The characters in this novel were quite vivid for me and grew and developed as the events unfolded; I definitely developed some pretty strong likes and dislikes for some of the characters, especially one, and I had a hard time reconciling that dislike with some of the events in the novel. Let me explain. First of all, I was completely drawn to both Jimmy and Vivien and enjoyed the exploration of their relationship tremendously. They were both down-to-earth people who really seemed to care for others and it showed in their treatment and tenderness toward those whom they were constantly helping during the war. Even if Vivien had the appearance of being rather cold and snooty, she was never that way for me as I guessed rather early on her dark secret and was right on the money. To be honest, I was rooting for them rather than for Dorothy who was the main character as by this time I came to dislike her completely although I couldn't really pinpoint exactly why. Dorothy was manipulative and persuasive and lived in this dream world that I wasn't completely crazy about, and I was not always happy with the way she treated Jimmy. I couldn't reconcile that Dorothy with the one Laurel kept raving about as a mother, the one who adored her father, and was always happy and put her family first, and this annoyed me completely. In a complete twist towards the end of the novel, one that I missed completely although I am not sure how I missed it (must have been dozing due to lack of sleep, or something), the fact that I was not crazy about Dorothy made complete sense and I have to credit the author with her writing skills as it would be due to this that made me both dislike Dorothy and root for Vivien and Jimmy. Anyways, it finally made sense and I was able to make sense of my feelings towards both Vivien and Dorothy.
The Secret Keeper was quite enjoyable and I was really fascinated by the historical aspects of this novel. I thought the author was quite adept at creating characters who were interesting as well as developed and personable, even if they were not always likeable. The plot was interesting and I was left quite satisfied with the ending, as with great attention to detail, all loose ends were tied up quite neatly. The author created a work of fiction about life and family and hopes and dreams that was quite vivid and satisfying. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys reading historical suspense and I am certainly going to be cracking open those other Kate Morton novels that have been sitting on my shelf.