The Secret Keeper. Kate Morton. Atria Books. October 2012. 496 pages paperback. Also sold at all e-book retail online sites. ISBN#: 9781439152805.
Author of The Distant Hours, and other bestsellers, Kate Morton again draws the reader into the years around WWII in England where turmoil reigns and the future of the country and personal lives seems so very unsure. It all begins when Laurel Nicholson is sitting in her tree house as a young girl and is debating whether or not to run into the kitchen of her house to get the "birthday knife" the family uses to cut all celebratory cakes. Instead she sees a man approach the house, followed by her mother coming outside, sharing words with the man who seems to know her, and then an action that haunts Laurel up to the time of her recounting this story to the reader. That scene is never spoken of by Laurel, her mother, or her much younger brother who was also present but dramatically affects their lives. Now Laurel wants to know the truth about the mystery behind the secret and sets to finding out what really happened that life-changing day so long ago!
Now it's time for Laurel's mother, Dorothy's 90th birthday party. Dorothy is not always so lucid and she occasionally mutters names that none of the family seem to know but which Laurel cannot get her to expand on in conversation. Laurel is a famous actress now and has a hard time doing interviews about her past because of her previous memories. It also turns out her baby brother remembers more than she thinks he does, but she doesn't want to traumatize him by revealing more, at least at first. As she begins to look a bit deeper by tracking down the people or acquaintances of the main players in this mystery, she finds that her mother had a secret life in London during WWII when she was deeply in love with a boy named Jimmy Metcalfe, someone who later became a famous photographer in Europe during the war. She was also good friends with a woman named Vivien Jenkins. Somehow something occurred that caused a break in their friendship. Who was the betrayer and why? How was that associated with her mother's devastating act seen by Laurel.
Kate Morton portrays war-torn England and the "desperate" nature of relationships with style and gripping tension that immediately snare the reader into rapidly flipping pages to find out the answer to numerous questions. It's an era many young readers might not relate to yet one that is intriguing for its private wars that mirror the global battles of this second "war to end all wars." Great writing and a riveting historical fiction read!