During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.
Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.
The Secret Keeper is a wonderful mystery novel that spans three different timelines, and has more twists and turns than a country road. Beginning in 1961, Laurel’s idyllic family life is interrupted when she witnesses her mother killing a man. Fifty years later, Laurel returns home to be with her ailing mother and her suppressed memories of that day begin to surface. Laurel is determined to find out the truth behind the incident, but the only clue she has is an old photograph of her mother with a woman called Vivien which was taken during the war.
As Laurel seeks answers, Morton transports the reader back to London during the Blitz and slowly reveals Dorothy and Vivien’s story so we end up being one step ahead of Laurel. Morton weaves the different timelines together beautifully, capturing the mood of each era perfectly, so they are as distinct as they can be from each other. Most of Dorothy’s story is set during the war and it is obvious Morton has done a lot of research into what London was like at that time as her descriptions are powerfully vivid, evoking the fear and horror of wartime, as well as the fighting spirit. Kate Morton really excels in writing books that move through different time periods, something for which she seems to have a preference.
The novel is fairly long so it will come as no great surprise that Morton strings out the big secret until almost the very end, however if you pay close attention to how certain scenes are played out and what is being said, it is possible to work it out. I think I was about two thirds of the way through when it hit me, and even then, I wasn’t completely sure I was right. I’m not revealing anything here, so you will have to work it out for yourself. Unfortunately, the length of the book also meant the pace was slow at times and this can be frustrating when you are anxious to get to the bottom of the mystery!