The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Although we may worry that someday we will become our mothers, their lives before we were born  – that young woman who still exists behind the aging eyes – usually remains a mystery, no matter how well documented the family history.  In her latest novel, Kate Morton uses the mystery of a mother’s youth with the backdrop of the London Blitz to reveal a captivating story of love, war, and deception in The Secret Keeper.

Laurel, the eldest daughter now in her sixties, is haunted by an incident she accidentally witnessed when she was a sixteen year old girl; she saw her mother stab a man to death.  The only other witness was her two-year old younger brother, Gerry.  The secret, kept for fifty years from her other three sisters, now surfaces as her ninety-year-old mother is dying.  Morton alternates the action from wartime London in the 1940s to the bucolic modern setting of Greenacres farm, the family homestead.  As the story unwinds with each character revealing another piece of the puzzle, Morton cleverly maintains the suspense:

“Never discount the possibility of turning up an answer none of the current theories predicts.”

As Laurel and her brother investigate clues they find in their mother’s trunk – an old white fur coat, a dedication in a book, a photograph, a note with only the words “thank you,” each piece is explained with a flashback to one of the key characters: Dorothy, Laurel’s mother; Vivian, the mysterious wealthy friend; and Jimmy, the photographer who documented wartime existence, its horrors as well as its poignant moments.

Kate Morton is one of my guilty pleasures; each of her books has that curl-up-in-a-comfy-chair storytelling quality with just enough romance and Gothic mystery.  With its subtle twists, this tale has her usual formula and takes a little longer than usual to get to her trademark surprise ending.  If you’ve enjoyed her other books (see my reviews below), you won’t be disappointed in this one.

Reviews of other Kate Morton Books:

Mr. Churchill’s Secretary

Number Ten Downing Street, with Churchill as the P.M. and Germans bombing London, is the setting for Susan Elia MacNeal’s first book in the Maggie Hope spy mystery series – Mr. Churchill’s Secretary.  With a mix of Bridget Jones panache and Ian Fleming espionage, MacNeal establishes a new sleuth with a mathematical brain and the charming mix of English parents and American upbringing.

Maggie Hope defers her acceptance into the Ph.D. program at M.I.T. to travel to London to sell the old Victorian house bequeathed to her by her British grandmother.  When the war starts, she takes on roommates and, despite her qualifications, can only get a job as a typist.

Secret Messages in Fashion Drawings

Spies are everywhere, and Maggie soon uncovers a code hidden in an ad for women’s dresses.  MacNeal supplies a reference in her historical note about Nazi agents in England embedding Morse code in drawings of models wearing the latest fashions.  Maggie finds Morse code in the hem of a dress.

The secret of Maggie’s father’s disappearance as well as the murder of one of Churchill’s staff add to the suspense, and the action escalates with a plot to murder Churchill and bomb St. Paul’s Cathedral.  Along with descriptions of  the horrors of London during the Blitz, MacNeal includes excerpts of famous speeches and lovely poems you may want to memorize.

By the end, Maggie has saved the day and been offered a promotion.  A fun, fast read with both history and adventure – and a possible romance brewing for the beautiful and brilliant red-head.

Thanks to Amy for introducing me to Maggie Hope.  I can’t wait for the next book in the series – Princess Elizabeth’s Spy – to be published in October.  In the meantime, as Churchill advises – KPO (Keep Plodding On).