Featured bedtime read: The Secret Keeper

By Kate Morton, 2012

4.5 out of 5

1961: On a sweltering summer's day, while her family picnics by the stream on their Suffolk farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out in her childhood tree house dreaming of a boy called Billy, a move to London, and the bright future she can't wait to seize. But before the idyllic afternoon is over, Laurel will have witnessed a shocking crime that changes everything.

2011: Now a much-loved actress, Laurel finds herself overwhelmed by shades of the past. Haunted by memories, and the mystery of what she saw that day, she returns to her family home and begins to piece together a secret history.

A tale of three strangers from vastly different worlds — Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy — who are brought together by chance in wartime London and whose lives become fiercely and fatefully entwined. Shifting between the 1930s, the 1960s and the present, The Secret Keeper is a spellbinding story of mysteries and secrets, theatre and thievery, murder and enduring love.

The Secret Keeper is the spellbinding new novel from the international bestselling author of The House at Riverton, The Forgotten Garden and The Distant Hours.

Part One
Laurel

Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer's day at the start of the nineteen sixties. The house is unassuming: half-timbered, with white paint peeling gently on the western side and clematis scrambling up the plaster. The chimney pots are steaming and you know, just by looking, that there's something tasty simmering on the stove top beneath. It's something in the way the vegetable patch has been laid out, just so, at the back of the house; the proud gleam of the leadlight windows; the careful patching of the roofing tiles.


I normally find something to enjoy in most books. That said, it's rare that a novel grips my imagination so that I really do lose track of all time and place; when suddenly my world is infused with a raft of emotion and colour I previously didn't think possible.

But Kate Morten's The Secret Keeper is one such book. This is an exceptional read, a stunning, intriguing novel. It opens in rural England. Laurel is sixteen. she's enjoying a teenage moment of infatuation on the floor of a treehouse. 'She closed her eyes and his name sketched itself with cursive fair across the blackened lids. Neon, hot pink neon.'

Kate Morten slam-dunks us into a vivid act of extraordinary brutality. More surprising still is that Laurel's darling mother Dorothy is the perpetrator of the crime.

The gear change propels the novel into its sophisticated flowering; it's both a contemporary thriller with grown-up actress Laurel as the amateur detective — her mother's pending death has triggered uncomfortable questions — and a war-time love story: young Dorothy, beautiful, fanciful and misguided; Jimmy, her handsome, loyal lover; and Vivien, the wealthy beauty, Dorothy's desirable neighbour.

The brilliant execution of this period, the tension pivoted on one seminal decision and the long-term repercussion of lives led by three young people simply struggling to survive in war-torn London, has delicious overtones of Ian McEwan's Atonement. But this story is more ambitiously spread between actress Laurel and her contemporary world, briefly shattered by her mother's dark past, and war-time Britain, with its confusion of compromise and ideal.

The plot is believable but at the same time fresh and surprising until the final page of a fulsome six hundred — but every one is a pleasure.

Listen to Tessa's review


More reviews

  • An evocative tale of wartime secrets and family loyalty…The story unfurls with a beguiling sweetness, but there's a real sting to this tale, too.- Marie Claire Good Book Club choice
  • Kate Morton excels in this enthralling novel about desires and divided loyalties.- Good Housekeeping
  • Read user reviews on Amazon

More about the author

Kate Morton

Kate Morton grew up in the mountains of southeast Queensland, Australia. She has degrees in Dramatic Art and English Literature and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland. Kate lives with her husband and two young sons in Brisbane.

Find out more