The Secrets She Keeps

Written by Michael Robothom

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.


The Secrets She Keeps
Sphere
RRP: £19.99
Released: July 11, 2017
Hbk

The cover shows an old-fashioned empty pram. Along with the title, and the strap: “The life she wanted wasn’t hers…” a plot involving baby-stealing is signalled, confirmed by the first paragraph of text.

 Agatha and Meghan are both pregnant: Agatha a shelf stacker in a convenience store, Meghan a professional and celebrated blogger married to a rising sports reporter. In the eyes of plain, debt-ridden Agatha Meghan has everything: beauty, money, two lovely children already, a successful husband, a smart social circle of friends. What Agatha doesn’t know is that the glamour is a façade with hairline cracks and, deeper, some festering guilt as yet unidentified for the reader.

But Agatha too has problems, and domestic frustration coupled with her febrile obsession with Meghan’s lifestyle introduce an alien twist to a hackneyed theme. A baby is more than a natural event, its being has become a force, something different. It’s as if, walking in a flowery lane, you catch a whiff of putrefaction where something has died in the ditch.

This is a psychological thriller. For all that, you guess what is going to happen and you focus on the babies (that empty pram) but there are also five adults, very much alive: two women and three men, all seething with raw emotion, and they are surrounded by friends and others, by extended families: an outer circle but involved, deeply concerned. An accident (so called) is waiting to happen. And then a baby is born.

After the birth comes violence, but not where it was expected and it passes almost unheeded: sudden, shocking, to recede and be absorbed in the welter of the major drama. A person dying under a train becomes no more than a catalyst for the events that follow and which lead to a denouement as inevitable as the murder, and as plausible.

The allure of this book is the empathy engendered in the reader for the sinners. One feels for the murderer more than for the tortured blackmailer. This  is a tour de force, the result of a gifted writer delving into the depths of the maternal drive to come up with a harrowing and exhausting take on a theme that could  be as old as time.



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