Written by Michael Robotham — So many books create earworms, either through their titles – think Ragdoll by Daniel Cole or William Shaw’s Sympathy for the Devil – or because of the music that plays a part in the story. Douglas Skelton’s recent Tag – You’re Dead used Connie Francis’s I’m Sorry to great effect.
This novel falls into the former category, because my twisted brain has embedded Mud’s The Secrets That You Keep on a never-ending loop. And that’s annoying, because a lightweight bit of 70s pop is not really the right soundtrack for this conniving, complex, cleverly constructed and downright addictive story.
Meghan Shaughnessy and Agatha Fyfe are poles apart. Meghan is the epitome of a yummy mummy. She has two lovely children, a high-profile spouse in the shape of TV sports presenter Jack, and she writes a well-received blog about her life. In contrast, Agatha lives alone in a rented, sparsely furnished flat, works for minimum wage at the local supermarket and admires occasional customer Meg and her chutzpah from afar.
The women have nothing in common, except that they’re both pregnant. And it’s this fact that’s destined to bring them together and, ultimately, tear them apart. Because both women are living a lie, and neither has any intention of revealing the truth… And that, dear reader, is where our plot revelations must end. This is Robotham at his sneakiest and I’m not about to spoil the fun. Suffice to say that you’ll get funny looks if you yell “Whaaat?” in the middle of a crowded carriage on the daily commute. Luckily, my “Whaaat?” moment came in the privacy of my own home!
Michael Robotham is an incredibly skilled crime writer, who somehow manages to immerse himself – and his readers – into a world that must surely be alien to him. He’s Australian, yet his depictions of London’s leafy suburbs are spot on, the dialogue is pitch perfect and the highs and lows of pregnancy, childbirth and early motherhood are faithfully created. Like Say You’re Sorry – reviewed here, almost five years ago – where he got so convincingly into the heads of a couple of teenage girls, Robotham has the mood swings, twinges and tribulations of a pregnant woman spot on.
I imagine the skill was honed in his days as a journalist and then sharpened even further when the author worked as a ghostwriter for the likes of Geri Halliwell, Lulu and Ricky Tomlinson, but it really comes into its own in this excellent book. And as the tension ratchets up, notch after notch, you’ll find yourself glued to the unfolding narrative and reading on to the wee small hours, perhaps eventually deciding to leave just a handful of chapters for the following day, so that you can prolong the enjoyment just a little bit longer.
Michael Robotham’s Joe O’Loughlin series has a big following, but he can also produce a mean stand alone tale. This is a story formed of truth, deception, trust, love, hate and despair, see-sawing between the twin tales of Meghan and Agatha. It will make your own emotions and loyalties see-saw too. For me, there’s nothing better than a crime novel that takes a simple, everyday situation and gives it a bone-jolting, never-saw-that-coming twist that makes you sit back and gasp. The Secrets She Keeps is just such a book. Enjoy.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars