Thursday, January 9, 2014

Book Review 2013 #9 - Kate Morton's The Secret Keeper

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Published by: Atria
Publication Date: October 16th, 2012
Format: Hardcover, 480 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy

When Laurel was a young girl she witnessed her mother kill a man. After that night they never spoke of it ever again. The crime was hushed up by the local police and other then herself and her parents, the rest of the family never knew what happened, especially to the special knife used to cut all the birthday cakes. Now fifty years have passed and Laurel's mom Dorothy is dying. Laurel has spent most of her life not thinking about that day. Shortly after the incident she moved away and has rarely been home since. With time running out, Laurel realizes that she can not let her mother go without finding out why the crime happened.

The answer goes further back then that day Laurel hide in the tree house, it goes back to London during the Blitz. Dorothy was a young girl with big plans for her and her boyfriend Jimmy. She could just see them now, at all the glitzy parties with all the chosen people, all the bright young things. Dorothy wasn't going to be a domestic all her life. Wasn't the fact that she had become friends with the wonderful and glamorous Vivien a sign that she was destined for greater things? Though nothing is as it seems sometimes. Dorothy was desperate to get the life she wanted, so desperate that she might do something stupid. Something that might echo down the ages till a "stranger" wanders up a garden path and dies with a knife buried in his gut.

I remember picking up my first Kate Morton book at Borders one day, it was a copy of The Forgotten Garden. Years later I finally read it and while I wanted to love it, with so much potential as to where the plot could have gone, I was a bit disappointed. Yet there was a part of me dying to give Kate Morton another chance. On a dark and stormy night in October I drove to Oconomowoc to see Kate Morton give a talk on her newest book, The Secret Keeper. She was a delight talking in her melodious voice about peeling wallpaper and everything else she loves. I had actually not read anything about her new book and was delighted to find out that a large portion of it took place during the Blitz. While the Blitz must have been one of the most horrific things to live through, it has a romanticism that draws me. It was a time when life lost it's routine. The world was on hold till one side lost. During this time what life you had was intensified. You seized anything you could and didn't let go. I often wonder if we will ever see an event that could have the same impact, but I know it's unlikely. Thousands of people euthanized their pets because they knew of the danger they would be in and also because of rationing... which makes me question a bit why Kate's new book had a few too many pets... research error or food for later...

Sitting in the little armchair with her perfectly cut hair and lovely boots, Kate read the opening chapter. I have a tendency to not be good at public speaking events, after a few minutes I really start to zone out, but Kate had me just transfixed. While I wanted to listen to the rest of her talk and her question and answer session, there was a part of me that just wanted to sit there in that auditorium and keep reading. I wanted to blot out the rest of the world and make this book my everything. One reason I desired an escape from the world was I was in the midst of my worst semester ever and I longed to lose myself. Another reason was that the book I was reading by Mary Roach was non-fiction and not that much of an escape. Also, there are so many other books I want to read at a given time that sometimes picking my new book over an old book makes it feel like the new book is jumping the queue. So I waited. Then one day before spring break I couldn't take it anymore and just had to pick the book up. I devoured it in four days.

I was grateful that this book didn't have the ambition of The Forgotten Garden. Now, this isn't a slight on the book, it just had a simpler question at it's core. Therefore I had a clear through line to follow. I could see, if partially obscured, what followed what and I didn't go off in flights of fancy imagining killings like Jack the Ripper and dark abuse and murder... all of which happened in reading The Forgotten Garden. Instead I had a wonderful time with three characters. Laurel, I couldn't care less about, but Jimmy, Dorothy and Vivien were so alive and so distinct and fully formed they became my life for a few days. Yet what I loved the most is the twist, turn, secret, whatever you want to call it, was a wonderful surprise that could only be done in a book. The contrivance would never work in any other medium, and it's the characters and their behavior that make the twist not only possible, but fully believable. Now, while I will say that I saw the twist coming, it was because of Kate's writing that, although the end was in view, I couldn't tear myself away from the book. I was glad I gave Kate another chance, and I have a feeling I'll be picking up another one of her books in the near future.


I am jealous that you got to hear Kate read! I liked this book, but my favorite of hers is "The Distant Hours." The twist at the end of that one was fabulous! I did like "The Secret Keeper," but somehow I just didn't really click with Dorothy, and so I didn't feel quite as involved as I would have liked to.

Sorry you didn't like "The House at Riverton!" I did spend a lot of that book wanting to punch Grace in the face, but we read it as a book club selection, and we had some great conversations about it, so I think I enjoyed the book more because of that.

As with all books, the more I think about "The House at Riverton" the less I dislike it, but I agree, sometimes talking about a book helps, which I hope will help my opnions on the Nelson Mandela autobiography I just read when we meet on Sunday (that man was amazing but writing wasn't one of his skills).

Also, now you have me really excited for "The Distant Hours"! Can not wait! It was totally awesome meeting Kate last fall, hearing her speak gave me some more insight into how she writes.

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