The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas

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The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Zoe Morris
Reviewed by Zoe Morris
Summary: Sarah is the new woman in Alexander and Jamie's life, but no one quite knows what happened to the last one. A brilliant novel that builds to a fabulous finish.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 544 Date: May 2012
Publisher: Black Swan
ISBN: 978-0552777339

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Sarah and Alexander meet at a time when both are looking for a fresh start following the demise of their previous relationships. She is vulnerable, he is needy, and together they can support each other. Sarah is quickly employed as a live in housekeeper in his sprawling home, and moves south from Manchester to join Alex and his young son Jamie. Life in a small village takes some getting used to, especially given what has happened. Genevieve, Alex’s popular, pretty and wealthy wife, has disappeared. Some say of her own accord, others are sure something sinister has happened to her, but in any event she has not been heard from since she left town and the locals are suspicious of Sarah’s motives. In their eyes she is moving in on the man who rightly belongs to the town sweetheart, taking over the role of mothering Jamie, and generally weaselling her way in to become the lady of the house before Genevieve’s bed is even cold. Protestations that she is simply an employee, not a lover, fall on deaf ears, and with Genevieve’s family being the most prominent in town, it’s hard to get anyone to be on Sarah and Alexander’s side when accusations start flying.

For GCSE English I had to compare Rebecca and Jane Eyre, a combination where you really have to look quite closely to see the similarities. With clear parallels to Du Maurier’s work, this would have made for a much easier assignment. The clear theme both books is being the new woman: in that one the second Mrs de Winter, in this the new female presence in Alexander’s life. There is the way they meet too – a chance encounter in a foreign land – the speed of their relationship and the unknown state of the former wife. Obviously this is a more modern take, but the remote country setting helps with the mystery and danger that develop. It’s always useful for this kind of story when you’re somewhere with a crappy phone signal, leaving you isolated from those you need in your time of need. At the same time, it’s nice to have internet access as a possibility, when a good Google search is your first port of call when trying to track down long lost acquaintances who may hold the key to a missing person’s fate.

This is Sarah’s story, but it is also Genevieve’s. Sarah is simply obsessed with Alex’s estranged wife, not helped by the fact that her name is mentioned everywhere she goes. The circumstances under which she left are odd, but not impossible, but with the woman’s family convinced Alex was directly responsible, no one is going to rest until the truth comes out.

I absolutely adored this book, and when I reached the epilogue in a location as far removed as possible from stormy country England (under the blazing sun in a café in Bosnia) I still felt like I was right there with the characters which is a huge compliment for the writing. The story is really in two parts, with the initial scene setting and then the press and police investigations, and while the first part was already well paced the second simply flew by, ultimately finishing in a way I hadn’t seen coming. I had been back and forth throughout the story, trying to decide whether the ending would be obvious or outlandish because some of the clues dropped seemed too predictable. In the end I was extremely satisfied with how different elements tied up, though I would now like to re-read it knowing, as I do, how it ends.

Louise Douglas is a new name on my bookshelf but I was happy to try based on the cover claim (likening her writing to that of Kate Morton). This wasn’t an exaggeration as all the features of Morton’s writing that I enjoy – the mystery, the plot twists, the great descriptions and the interesting characters – were all there. This was a fabulous read. If the beginning was engaging, the ending was exhilarating. I enjoyed the moments when Jamie got to shine, and I was intrigued by the few friends Sarah made in the village. I might have liked to have seen more moments with Genevieve’s family but in the end Sarah alone was enough to carry the story. That and the significance of the cover art – something I couldn’t quite tie into the story – are my only quibbles in what was otherwise an excellent read.

I found this book hard to put down because without knowing exactly what, I knew something big was coming and I wanted to get there sooner rather than later. The story developed well and Sarah’s descriptions were fun and reasonable, with it especially fun to see the city mouse heading to the country rather than the other way round. At the same time, she was willing to muck in, and didn’t spend all her time in heels when wellies would have been the more practical choice, for which I respected her.

This book comes highly recommended and I’d like to thank the publishers for sending us a copy.

They don't seem quite as dark as this one, but having enjoyed my first entry into Douglas' work, I'm now interested to try her earlier 2, namely The Love of My Life and Missing You.

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