1960’s rural England provides the backdrop to the opening of Kate Morton’s novel The Secret Keeper, within which we are introduced to Laurel, a sixteen year-old enjoying the type of idyllic, meltingly hot and peaceful summer’s day that now seems to evade our miserable 21st Century British summertime.
Morton’s first chapter is built up slowly, her emphasis upon character and descriptive imagery appearing key, however as the chapter concludes we are thrown one of the many twists that preoccupies this novel; from the solace of her childhood tree-house Laurel witnesses her Mother, Dorothy, stab and kill a stranger in front of her baby brother and their seemingly blissful family home, yet the murder is explained to the Police by Dorothy as an act of self-defence against the stranger’s attempt to grab her child.
Laurel corroborates her Mother’s story, yet fails to inform the authorities that the supposed stranger, unfamiliar to Laurel, greets Dorothy by her name before meeting his violent end. Laurel is plagued by what she witnesses and perplexed as to what would drive her loving Mother to plunge a knife into a man’s chest, however, life goes on and the murder is forgotten.
Flash forward to 2011 and although the incident is 50 years behind her, Laurel (now a BAFTA winning actress and the Nation’s second ‘Favourite Face’) cannot escape the vivid memory of the crime, her nostalgic confusion heightened by Dorothy’s days in her Suffolk nursing home, which appear to be coming to an end.
Laurel’s determination to unravel the mystery shrouding that summer’s day leads us to Second World War England, following the life of a young Dorothy and the characters Jimmy and Vivien, their stories help to untangle the motives behind Dorothy’s crime and are integral to Dorothy’s own story. Morton’s narrative offers the reader an indulgently descriptive time-travelling experience, and its many unexpected twists leave you frantically turning to the next chapter. Ending with an extremely large and spoiler-worthy twist, The Secret Keeper succeeded in subverted all the initial expectations of a serene countryside setting; a worthy read for summer, although at 500 pages it may take a while.
words: Hannah Dawson