May 22, 2020

Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton


The Secret Keeper

by Kate Morton

Genres: Historical Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: Atria
Length: 484 pages
Published: October 9, 2012
Purchase Links: Amazon, Barnes & Noble

My Goodreads Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Official Book Summary:

"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."


"It's a terrible thing, isn't it, the way we throw people away?"


"The man came round the corner and she glanced sideways. The smile slipped from her face.

'Hello there,' said the stranger, pausing to press his handkerchief to each temple. 'Fine weather we're having.'

The baby's face broadened in delight at the newcomer, and he reached out his chubby hands, opening and closing them in excited greeting. It was an invitation no one could refuse, and the man tucked the handkerchief back into his pocket and stepped closer, raising his hand slightly, as if to anoint the little fellow.

Her mother moved then with startling haste. She wrested the baby away, depositing him roughly on the ground behind her. There was gravel beneath his bare legs, and for a child who knew only tenderness and love the shock proved too much. Crestfallen, he began to cry.

Laurel's heart tugged, but she was frozen, unable to move. Hairs pricked on the back of her neck. She was watching her mother's face, an expression on it that she'd never seen before. Fear, she realized: Ma was frightened.

The effect on Laurel was instant. Certainties of a lifetime turned to smoke and blew away. Cold alarm moved in to take their place.

'Hello, Dorothy,' the man said. 'It's been a long time.'

He knew Ma's name. The man was no stranger.

He spoke again, too low for Laurel to hear, and her mother nodded slightly. She continued to listen, tilting her head to the side. Her face lifted to the sun, and her eyes closed for just one second.

The next thing happened quickly.

It was the liquid silver flash Laurel would always remember. The way sunlight caught the metal blade, and the moment was very briefly beautiful."

My Book Review:

I first read Kate Morton's novels when a friend recommended The Forgotten Garden. I read it--more aptly, I devoured it--while on vacation. The stunning writing blew me away and the depth of her characters and the setting greatly reminded me of Charles Dickens, whom I adore. It was a 4.5 out of 5 stars and I could not wait to read another one of her books.

The beginning of The Secret Keeper is fantastic and drew me in immediately: a young girl named Laurel witnesses her mother murder a man who comes walking up the driveway and greets her with a familiar tone. When the narrative followed this Laurel’s journey to discover the truth behind her mother's relationship with this stranger and what happened that day, the reading flew by. I was endlessly curious and loved fitting the puzzle pieces of this mystery together. The narrative, however, alternates between Laurel and another character Dorothy (aka Dolly) and I really struggled through these sections. In large part, this is due to Dorothy's obsession with Vivien, an upper-class woman whom she meets, admires, and then becomes obsessed with stalking. This obsession made no sense to me, her motivation felt lacking, and ultimately I was so bothered by her choices that I set the novel aside. However, my love for The Forgotten Garden and my desire to find out the truth motivated me to pick it up again and press forward. I'm glad I did.

About a hundred or so pages from the end, the mystery intensifies and as elements arise, clash, and confuse. This made both Laurel's and Dorothy's narratives increasingly tense and intriguing and I found myself hooked. The novel’s ending completely threw me, I did not see it coming, and for that I applaud it. All at once, everything made sense. Serious props to Morton for pulling this off.

Morton excels at combining strong characters, vivid historical settings, and complicated mysteries. The emotional vascillation betwen Laurel and Dorothy's narratives can be jarring, but the payoff is well worth the investment.
You can also check out Morton's newest novel, The Clockmaker's Daughter. What's your favorite Kate Morton novel?

If You Like This, Then Try:

Other Books by Kate Morton
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
The Lake House by Kate Morton
The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Other Historical Fiction Mysteries
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield (historical fiction, fantasy, magical realism)
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (historical fiction, mystery)
These Shallow Graves by Jennifer Donnelly (young adult, historical fiction, mystery, thriller)

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