Kate Morton is one of the few authors I think can get away with writing fat, 500-page novels because she fills up those pages with a lot of story. I was a bit surprised, then, to find The Secret Keeper overly long, and not as gripping as it could be if it were tighter.
The story moves back and forth between 2011 and 1941 in England, after an initial scene in the ’60s that sets up the mystery. Sixteen-year-old Laurel witnesses her mother, Dorothy, do something horrific to a stranger and then lie to the police about it. This is especially shocking since Dorothy is a kind, decent woman by all accounts.
Fifty years later, Dorothy is dying and Laurel wants to know the truth behind what she saw and why her mother did it. Laurel digs into Dorothy’s past via letters and books and a photo, and arrives at a startling discovery.
Morton is skilled at developing her characters, and several of them here are memorable, Jimmy and Vivien in particular. Dorothy is interesting for her mercurial qualities—she seems to transform from good girl to reprehensible woman to loving mother. She made me consider how much I’d be willing to forgive someone for a destructive mistake if that person is truly remorseful and manages to turn her life around. And what if that person were my mother?
At times, though, the author goes into too much detail about too many characters, some of whom are tangential, such as Laurel’s sisters. They don’t really contribute to the story because they don’t know anything about The Event (Laurel was the sole witness besides her brother, who was only a baby) so I didn’t need to learn about their personality quirks or wonder whether one had gotten plastic surgery.
There’s also a section going way back to 1929 Australia that relays the background of Vivien, someone who knew Dorothy in 1941. Vivien’s story is tragic, but I think it could’ve been somewhat synopsized instead of being shown in detail. Jimmy, another friend of Dorothy’s from the ’40s, also had a sad past, but Morton managed to convey it succinctly without having to devote a whole chapter to his childhood.
Keeper is most effective when focusing on the story between Laurel and her mother, and the plot line involving Jimmy and Vivien and Dorothy. It loses momentum when it digresses, and there’s a revelation that doesn’t quite explain what the stranger says to Dorothy in the opening scene, but it’s still worth checking out for Morton completists.
Nerd verdict: Secret could’ve been kept tighter