The Secret Keeper
by Kate Morton
Published: October 9, 2012
Genres: Adult Fiction, Historical Fiction
Format: Hardcover (484 pages)
During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.
Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.
Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.
Short and Sweet Version
The Secret Keeper was a unique murder mystery about Laurel delving into her mother’s past to find out why her lovely mother murdered someone with a cake knife (Happy birthday! Let’s cut the cake! Where’s the knife? Uh…..we lost it.). This historical fiction story set during the Blitz in World War II will make you ask the question, “Did MY parents murder someone with a cake knife? How much do I really know about my parent’s past?”
Jessica Thinks Too Much Version
Mild spoilers ahead! This spoiler warning is for those very sensitive to any spoilers. Major spoilers look like this > View Spoiler »And then everyone dies!!! Why did you click this link if you haven’t read the book?! Just kidding. Anything about the ending will be hidden in links like this. « Hide Spoiler
The Secret Keeper is unique among murder mysteries because we know right at the beginning who was killed and who did the killing but we don’t know why. (Full disclosure – I am a wuss and have not actually read that many murder mysteries so I can’t say this is 100% true).
A young girl named Laurel witnesses her mother murder someone. The rest of the story is about Laurel trying to figure out why her loving, sweet mother would commit murder. Here’s why this murder mystery worked so well for me. For Laurel to figure out why her mother would do that, she had to dig into her mother’s past. On this journey of digging, Laurel is bugged by the fact that not only does she not know very much about her mother’s past but the fact that she had never realized before how little she knew.
Children don’t require of their parents a past, and they find something faintly unbelievable, almost embarrassing, in parental claims to a prior existence.
-Kate Morton, The Secret Keeper pg 26
I have the same mystery to solve as Laurel even though my parents haven’t murdered anyone with a cake knife (that I know of). How much do I know about my parent’s lives before they were parents? Could I tell their story from start to finish? Probably not. This story inspired me to fix that and learn more about them.
The plot goes back and forth between the past and the present. It worked so well for this story because it kept me turning the pages so I could connect all the dots in the story. I wanted to know how this girl Dolly grew up to be Laurel’s mother because they seemed so different. Dolly must have gone through something crazy and major to become the grown-up Dorothy. View Spoiler »PLOT TWIST! They actually ARE different people. Laurel’s mother, whose real name is Vivien, stole Dolly’s identity (who was killed in a bombing) so she could start a new life away from her abusive husband. Such an awesome, clever twist. Well done. « Hide Spoiler I wanted to know why Laurel’s mother was grateful for a second chance. “Because people who’d led dull and blameless lives did not give thanks for second chances. (pg 109)” And it was so fascinating to read about Laurel’s internal conflict as she’s learning more and more things about her mother’s past that disappoint her but she can’t help still loving her.
We had so much fun discussing Dolly’s character in book club because she was crazy. Dolly had this weird obsession with her friend Vivien. You think Dolly’s normal until this scene where Vivian clearly doesn’t know who Dolly even is. They were only friends in Dolly’s head and it blew my mind. It showed some great character writing that the author, Kate Morton, could write character motivation so well that it took me so long to notice that Dolly was obsessive and narcissistic.
The writing is good with little sprinkles of British humor. Dolly works for an old lady who reminded me of Lady Grantham on Downton Abbey because she longs for the good old days of proper lady’s maids. The old lady is described as “marinating in the bitter juices of abandonment for the better part of three decades. (pg 132)” Kind of sounds like Lady Grantham, too, right?
Why do you think kids aren’t very curious about their parents past?
Laurel is shocked when she realizes she doesn’t know that much about her mother’s past. She points out that kids for some reason aren’t very curious about their parents past. I mean, kids know certain funny stories and little facts but I never realized that I couldn’t tell my parents story from start to finish until I read this book. There would be huge gaps between the few stories that I know. What about you? Could you tell their whole story? Do you think kids should learn more about their parent’s past?
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