The Secret Keeper: A Novel by Kate Morton (Atria Books, $26.99, 496 pages)
Every family has a secret or two. It might be an escapade by great-aunt Sally that nobody wants to acknowledge for fear of losing social standing in the community. On the other hand, it might be a secret so huge and shocking that it lays buried in the subconscious of the only witness to the event.
Author Kate Morton makes good use of poetic illusions and warped time as she slowly peels back the layers of a family history with Laurel Nicolson (a renowned actress), Vivien Jenkins (a lovely and wealthy socialite), and Dorothy Nicholson (the mother of Laurel, her sisters and her brother) at its center. The tale switches back and forth between time periods, mostly World War II and 2011. Although the reader is provided with ample notice of the time switches, there exists a vague sense of unease and confusion conveyed by Laurel and her sisters.
Perhaps the fact that this is a story with action locales in the English countryside and sea-shore, London, as well as a flashback to Australia adds to the sense of wondering and aimlessness felt by this reviewer. The descriptions of the devastation wrought by the London bombings are no doubt accurate and they are terrifying. Also, there were times when a look back at prior chapters was necessary to clarify character names and roles. This mild discomfort was well worth enduring for the remarkable payoff Ms. Morton reveals at the conclusion of her saga.
Far North: A Magnus Jonson Mystery by Michael Ridpath (Minotaur Books, $25.99, 384 pages)
Get ready for a strange adventure when you read Far North. By strange I mean out of the ordinary in terms of setting and vocabulary. The setting is Iceland and the time is post-2007 economic crash that basically ruined the economy of the country. While the rampant cheating and leveraging engaged in by business and banking moguls all over the world caused great harm, it was devastating for this cold and wind-swept country of less than half a million residents.
Basically, the tale is an English style detective story displaced to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. As such the reader is treated to a nice travelogue with multi-generational murders and Nordic style myths and sagas. Time switches among several periods beginning with August 1934 and progresses in odd intervals toward the fall of 2009. Main character/protagonist Magnus Jonson is a detective of Icelandic background whose home is Boston, Massachusetts. Magnus is hiding from gangsters he has fingered in Boston as he attends the police academy in Iceland.
Conveniently, Magnus is the sort of detective that can’t help detecting, even when the case may not be his own assignment. Along the way he coordinates with other detectives to make sense of revelations he has made. Childhood traumas have a way of insidiously seeping into the actions of damaged adults. That lesson is hammered home throughout the gripping tale.
Note to potential readers: The complex naming system for people in Iceland may be confusing and the pronunciation of geographic names may be daunting. Don’t let that get between you and an exhilarating chase to the end.
Review copies were provided by the publishers.