It was raining, cold and damp the day I started to read Kate Morton's latest book - The Secret Keeper. And the perfect day to snuggle in to my favourite chair and lose myself in Morton's absolutely wonderful storytelling.
The prologue of The Secret Keeper is a show stopper it will hook you and the tale will keep you enthralled until you turn the last page. Early 1960's England. Sixteen year old Laurel lives an idyllic life with her beloved mother, father, her three sisters and brother in an isolated house in the countryside - until the day a stranger surprises their mother outside their home. Laurel, hidden in a treehouse, witnesses this meeting - and it's shocking outcome. And although life carries on afterwards, there's an unmistakable rift in the fabric of their lives.
"There were moments, Laurel solemnly believed, in which a person reached a crossroads; when something happened, out of the blue to change the course of life's events."
Fast forward to 2011. The siblings are called back to Greenacres Farm; their mother Dorothy is approaching her 90th birthday and her health is not good. Laurel sees these final days as her last opportunity to get answers from her mother as to what happened that day over fifty years ago.
"Not about Ma. I mean that young woman. She was a different person back then, with a whole other life we know nothing about. Do you ever wonder about her, about what she wanted, how she felt about things - Laurel sneaked a glance at her sister - the sorts of secrets she kept?
Morton again effectively uses her technique of past and present narratives to tell Dorothy's story. We meet her in 1941 as 'Dolly', a vivacious seventeen year old girl with dreams and ambitions. I found myself immersed in the past as Morton sets the scene and tone of wartime England perfectly. I was completely captured by Doll's life, drawn in and on tenter hooks to see what happened next. And just at a crucial point, the narrative jumps forward to the present day.
Laurel is determined to piece together the truth from the cryptic sentences and words her mother murmurs. Between those and the contents of an attic trunk, she and her brother pursue the past. We, as readers, are of course privy to more as we follow Dolly back to the 1940's and the events that lead up to that fateful day outside the farmhouse.
I was so conflicted about Dorothy/Dolly - the woman the siblings know is so far removed from the Dolly of the war years. Which incarnation is true? And then a third narrative from the past is added in the last bit of the book. And this is, of course, when I stopped looking at the clock, because there was no way I was going to bed without knowing the ending.
Oh, the ending! Morton has done it in previous books - caught me unawares in the final pages. She's done it again in The Secret Keeper - the ending has a fantastic twist. I went back and re-read earlier passages with a different eye.
Morton's writing is rich and atmospheric, with a bit of a gothic feel. The story builds slowly and deliciously, with layer upon layer peeled away as secrets are revealed over the course of 450 pages.
Kate Morton has another bestseller on her hands with The Secret Keeper - and it's one you'll want to get your hands on! It releases today. Highly, highly recommended.