Of course most teenage girls would think any farmhouse in the country is the middle of nowhere, and sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson is no exception. Playing hooky from a sibling's birthday party, she's daydreaming of her future up in the tree house. A little later she sees a strange man walking up the road to the house where he speaks to Laurel's mother.
Fifty years later, Laurel is an award-winning actress who's gathered with her sisters at the family farm to celebrate their mother's ninetieth birthday. Their mother has always been beautiful, vivacious, loving, almost perfect in her children's eyes, but her health is fading quickly. Laurel realizes that she's had questions about that long ago day when she saw the stranger walking up the road-- and she's running out of time to get the answers she wants because the information Laurel needs can only be found in her mother's past.
Dorothy Nicolson's memory seems as fragile as her health, but even on her good days, she's unwilling to part with any information. Laurel must dig for clues, check records, and talk to Dorothy's contemporaries. Reliving her mother's life as a paid companion in London during the Blitz, Laurel slowly begins to put the pieces together and discovers the stunning truth.
I have read and enjoyed all of Kate Morton's books; each one is better than the last. In her latest, there are many secret keepers-- it seems as though each character has something to hide. The narrative moves between present-day England where Laurel searches into her mother's past, and London during the 1940s where as a young girl her mother tries to survive despite endless shortages and nightly bombing raids. Laurel soon finds that her mother's story is entwined with those of two others: rich, beautiful Vivien married to a successful novelist, and handsome war photographer Jimmy.
Morton is masterful at revealing facts in increments-- clues a tiny nugget at a time. While the reader may get the impression that the characters' feelings, histories and motivations are becoming clearer with each chapter, are they? Really? Or is the reader merely seeing what Morton wishes them to see? Morton's talent is that she does both at the same time.
One thing that Morton does wish the reader to see is that each decision made by Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy has its consequences, and that each decision may not have been the right one. As each character comes under closer scrutiny, the reader's loyalties may shift from one to the other until the very end where all is revealed.
Did I place any of the puzzle pieces in the proper positions? A few, but not many. I've learned in reading Kate Morton's books that it's best to pretend I'm going whitewater rafting. There are quiet pools, strong currents, electrifying rapids, and a sense of near euphoria by story's end. Do what I did: sit back and enjoy a wonderful ride filled with vivid, memorable characters.
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Atria Books © 2012
Hardcover, 496 pages
Source: the publisher