At the age of 16, from the safety of the treehouse in her family’s yard, Laurel Nicolson observes a stranger approaching the house and then speaking to her mother, Dorothy. Laurel then witnesses an event she believes is caused by her mother protecting her family and their home, Green Acres. 50 years later, Laurel has returned to Green Acres for her mother’s 90th birthday. A photo of her mother and a woman called Vivian as well as the overwhelming memories of that fateful day incite Laurel to investigate what really happened so long ago.
The Secret Keeper is told both in flashbacks and present time, as Laurel tries to figure out her mother’s past, the reader is hearing events as they unfold from Dorothy’s and Vivian’s points of view. I’ve found that this type of storytelling device doesn’t always work for me, Sarah’s Key and The People of the Book are two novels I can think of off the top of my head that I felt would have been better served without the switching back and forth. But in this case, it works, as Laurel finds clues that help her piece together just enough information for her to understand the truth, and the timing of the jumps is done perfectly. I haven’t read other books by Kate Morton but in reading other reviews, it seems this is a technique she uses often.
Morton builds a detailed and realistic view of wartime London, and weaves an intricate plot with mysteries that are slowly and tantalizingly revealed. The reader wants to know how the “Dolly” of long ago is reconciled with the woman who becomes the loving wife and mother of Laurel’s youth, and the truth of her relationship with the mysterious Vivian. The characters are well drawn and believable, even the minor characters are well understood with only the smallest amount of description. The Secret Keeper leads you down an enjoyable and twisty road and has an ending that packs a wallop and is worth the wait.
Notes on the audiobook: The Secret Keeper is an enjoyable read, the type of story that sucks you in and keeps you listening, thanks to a talented reader. At close to 20 hours it’s on the longer side but not unmanageable.