The Secret Keeper
Kate Morton
(Brilliance Audio)
Laurel --- sixteen years old --- is in her treehouse there in the English countryside, in the farmhouse at Greenacres. It's her brother's fourth birthday, and it's a bright, warm day. Laurel peeps out to see her mother Dorothy searching for her below.

A stranger comes up the driveway and as he gets closer to her mother and greets her, she takes the knife she is going to use for the birthday cake and stabs him to death. Later, when the police came, Laurel lies --- says that the man threatened her mother. He didn't.

Psychologists tell us that families will often hide from out-of-the-ordinary events that could upset the family system. It can be true --- no, it could be especially true --- in a case of murder. Laurel never did figure out why her sweet, loving mother would rise up to stab a stranger to death, a man who greeted her by name. We don't get it either until, slowly, the story begins to spin out its secrets, starting in 1941 England, in the Blitz; coming together finally in the summer of 2011 at Greenacres.

Laurel is now an actress, famous, beloved by all. Her mother is dying. Laurel must unravel this as soon as possible, for Dorothy isn't long for this world, but as they venture close to the secret, Laurel worries that the very unfolding will kill the old lady. The perpetuator is on her death-bed, so, at a fragile time like that, how do you deal with the Big Secret?

§   §   §

The Blitz of 1941 is one of the central characters in The Secret Keeper. Waking up in the morning, finding the building next door gone, a whole neighborhood flattened. The randomness of it: one night you are huddled in your London flat, the windows curtained (no light must leak out); the next day you find which of your neighbors are injured, or homeless, or dead. Some hide underground, but others revel in the danger of being out and about as the bombers fly over: Dorothy confesses that she is invigorated by the adventure of navigating the dark streets. That is where secrets have been kept, will continue to be kept. And it is there that she meets her love, the war photographer Jimmy.

And that too is where she finally finds herself hidden with a mysterious, elegant young lady named Vivien. Vivien who works with her at the WVS service centre where they feed the firemen and ambulance drivers and nighttime volunteers from the wartime streets of London.

One of these characters will die in a night raid, and that death will become the fuse that drives The Secret Keeper --- the one that brings all together, one that gives the reader a fine jolt, makes us wonder --- as all good mysteries must make us wonder --- Aha! Why didn't I think of that?

I had not heard of novelist Kate Morton before she appeared in my mailbox in the form of these seventeen discs from Brilliance Audio. But as I listened to the reading by Caroline Lee, I found myself more and more mesmerized ... by her and her tale unravelling rather brilliantly. There came a time --- as it should in all good readings --- when you do not want it to stop. Furthermore, to prepare this review, I borrowed the book, read through key parts. It got me to mulling on the difference between the written word and the spoken.

For one thing, the rhythm and flow of the reading are perfect, and perfectly paced. Ms. Lee has quite a talent for that, has a hamper-full of all the right accents. Especially the accents of class which are so important in The Secret Keeper, and, as always, in that tight little Island we call Great Britain.

Class is as much at the core of this story as is the Blitz. Dorothy (and her love Jimmy) are out of the lower class, trying to rise above their station. Their foil, the astringent Vivien, is upper class, wants everyone --- especially Dolly --- to know it; seems at one point hell-bent on keeping her in her place.

This class act is important, and as Ms. Lee plays it, she shows, as she speaks, how important the accents are for the plot. Lee can turn old and petulant when she is speaking as noisy Lady Gwendolyn, or for the quiet and aged Dorothy. She turns young and anxious as she speaks for Dorothy, turns elegant as the untouchable Vivian. Finally, Laurel, old and famous, speaks beautifully, as if to the manor born.

§   §   §

If If I could do it all over again (I wish I could!) I would seek out the spoken version of this novel. If you do, you may, like me, find yourself bewitched, unable to tear yourself away from it, letting yourself be perfectly transported into another world amd another time, transported on the wings of the oldest of magics: the spoken word. There you'll find yourself, I believe, entranced by your own place in such a class act ... where people would rather die than let the world know where they think they came from, and where they think they're going.

--- Lolita Lark
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