Book Reviews Books for Adults

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

I finished The Secret Keeper on August 31, just in time to complete my three books for summer reading. And, happily, I ended with the best of them all.

My mom has been recommending Kate Morton to me for AGES (seriously. . .years) and like a complete idiot, I have read exactly none of her books.

Now, I’m a convert. This book was stellar.

The book begins in the 1960s, when Laurel is sixteen. Her family (which is a remarkably close and happy family) is celebrating Gerry’s second birthday, but Laurel is starting to pull away from her family just a bit, as she grows up.

While the family plays and picnics by the creek, Laurel retreats to the treehouse for a bit of privacy. But her daydreams about her future (and boys, obviously) are shattered when she sees her mother, Dorothy, returning from the house where she retrieved the knife for the birthday cake, approached by a strange man.

The man obviously knows her mother, calling her by name, which seems strange, but there’s hardly time to dwell on that because moments later, Laurel’s mother stabs him with the knife, killing him instantly.

As you can imagine, Laurel is never quite the same.

Life moves on – her mother claims it was self-defense and Laurel corroborates that story for the police, and the subject is never mentioned again by any members of the family.

The story now splits into two parts – Laurel, fifty years in the future, now an extremely successful actress, knows her mother is close to death, and finds herself desperate to understand, before it’s too late, what exactly happened with her mother and this mysterious man she murdered. Her only clues are a picture of her mother and another pretty girl taken during WWII and an inscribed copy of Peter Pan. Her mother is less and less coherent and Laurel is racing down the clock of her mother’s life to get any details she can, not least of all so she can find out if her happy, idyllic childhood was all a farce.

The other story takes place in the early 40s, during WWII, in London where Dorothy has come to pursue a life more exciting than the one in her family’s little town. Her dreams of wealth and grandeur seem to be encapsulated by the lovely woman who lives across the street from her, Vivian, whom she sees as a kindred spirit – someone full of life and vitality. Besides Vivian, the only other person she really knows well in London is her boyfriend, Jimmy, who, despite his lowly background, is starting to make a name for himself as a photographer. Jimmy and Dorothy plan to get married, but Jimmy doesn’t want to until he can provide for her a little better, especially as Dorothy dreams more and more of the kind of life she sees Vivian living.

The two stories go back and forth, as Laurel searches for clues about what unfolded in 1940 that led up to her mother’s shocking actions twenty years later. She may not know much about her mother’s early life, but she is pretty sure the secrets are buried during those intense days of the London Blitz. Somehow, she knows, Vivian is crucial to this story, and so is Jimmy, but it’s now so long ago, it’s hard to track down the major players.

This book was just SO fun to watch unfold. I knew there was a twist coming, but I couldn’t figure out what it was going to be. And when it DID come, I was completely taken off-guard, but it was so perfect and so gratifying that I actually laughed out loud (I was getting ready while reading it – Bart probably wondered why it was taking me 45 minutes to put on my makeup and do my hair).

Everything about this book delighted me – the characters, the historical backdrop, the vibrancy of London both in the present and during WWII, and, most of all, the clever plotting and meticulous unfolding of the mystery.

Read it. I’m almost certain you’ll love it.

And I’m feeling happy I have three more of her books to read in the coming weeks.

Copy checked out from my local library

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  • Reply Stephanie September 5, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    I love the way that you describe things that you enjoy!

  • Reply Maren T. September 5, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I read this book to follow along and it was by far my favorite of the three as well. I also couldn't agree more about the twists! A couple of times I flipped to the back of the book only to feel more boggled. Such a good read! Thanks for all your book recommendations I just can't get enough lately.

  • Reply Amanda September 5, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Yes!!! I loved it and the became sort of obsessed trying to relay details to my husband…not sure he followed my incoherent babble. It was a great book. I wish I could read it over again, but without knowing how it ends. I don't often re-read books because that initial experience isn't re-created. Can't wait to check out some of her other stuff.

  • Reply Angiegirl September 5, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    I've been curious about Morton (and this book) for some time now. Thanks for the push, Janssen. 🙂

  • Reply RA September 5, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    I listened to this on audio, and when the ending was revealed, I gasped VERY loudly and dramatically in my car. I really enjoyed The Distant Hours, too, but not quite as much as The Secret Keeper. Merrick was the one who turned me on to Kate Morton in the first place!

    I decided to pace myself on the Morton books, so I'm not going to try any others until next year. I don't want to enjoy them less out of proximity of potentially similar stories and styles, you know?

  • Reply Meg C September 5, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    So glad you read it! I finished it earlier this summer, and loved it as well. Kate Morton is awesome- my only qualm is that you can't start her books if you have anything else to do, because you're going to be up late every night until you finish it!

  • Reply Chrissie September 5, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I LOVED this book too. Everything that you described – the vibrancy of past and present England, the characters, the mystery – I felt the exact same way. And that ending! So fantastic and gratifying, and yet it completely surprised me as well. Ooh, I just loved it.

    And I feel the same as RA – definitely looking forward to the rest of her books (love her now!) but think it would be enjoyable to spread them out.

  • Reply Kristen September 5, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    So glad I'm not the only one that reads while doing morning prep! It makes the boringness of curling the hair more interesting.

  • Reply Science Teacher Mommy September 5, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    I've read some others of hers. . . they are a bit dark. Full of secrets though; some of which are creepy. I liked Forgotten Garden. House at Riverton was pretty depressing. The Distant Hours was so mysterious . . . she really lets her characters suffer.

  • Reply Science Teacher Mommy September 5, 2013 at 11:38 pm

    P.S. Besides the secret theme throughout, WWII plays a huge role in every book, and all of hers that I've read have at least two stories going on at once. Some of them have so many flashbacks and flashforwards that I get lost. I enjoy them; I just wouldn't read two in a row.

  • Reply Lexilooo September 5, 2013 at 11:45 pm

    I LOVE Kate Morton's books, and I'm pretty sure I've suggested them to you in the past too! So glad you're reading them, and can't wait to hear what you think of the other three!

  • Reply joolee September 6, 2013 at 12:20 am

    I must agree – isn't Morton such a great storyteller?? This was the first of hers that I'd read too, and I'm in the midst of The Distant Hours right now. Loving it, although her descriptions (of everything!) are so lengthy, sometimes I wonder where she's going with them. But the suspense (and the number of secrets her characters are keeping) are building! My book club is reading The Forgotten Garden soon too; can't wait!

  • Reply JoLee September 6, 2013 at 12:58 am

    I'll have to put this one on my list. I really liked Morton's THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN a lot, but I thought the HOUSE AT RIVERTON was kind of boring. And, since my goodreads review of The House at Riverton has more likes than any of my other reviews, I must not be the only one who thinks so. (All those likes. It's so crazy to me.) Maybe save the House at Riverton for last, but I give a glowing "read on" for The Forgotten Garden. I'm glad to hear that her two newest books are good too.

  • Reply Katie September 6, 2013 at 3:21 am

    Adding this one to my list!

  • Reply Merrick September 6, 2013 at 7:25 am

    Dude, I loved this book so much. Definitely my favorite of her four. Also, that ending?! BRILLIANT.

  • Reply Mia September 6, 2013 at 1:12 pm

    Now I'm going to speed through to read the ending. A good choice for audio, do you think?

  • Reply Rachel September 6, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    I've been anxiously waiting for your review because I also LOVED this book. I'll have to look for some of her other books.

  • Reply Kate Rogge September 9, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    I'm SO GLAD you finally read Kate Morton! I'm an avid library book reader, but felt a pang of jealousy when I visited my sister and saw her very own copies on her shelf–some books you just need to own…Kate Morton books are some of those (also, any copy of Gone With the Wind, Little Women, and any Laura Ingalls book you can find).

  • Reply Laura {a spoonful of joy} September 16, 2013 at 6:55 pm

    I'm so glad you mentioned this book in the beginning of the Summer. I had never heard of Kate Morton (how, I do not know!) but now I'm hooked! I loved this one and can't wait to read more. I gave myself a little pat on the back because, about halfway through, I guessed the ending! (That usually doesn't happen so I was pretty excited! 😉

  • Reply Sarah S. September 19, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    I'm SO hoping this book is at my library this weekend.

  • Reply Señora H-B December 31, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Just finished this and my mind was completely boggled/delighted by the ending. The audio book narration was also outstanding.

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