THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS by Michael Robotham
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The Verdict: emotionally-charged, character-driven suspense
There are so many elements that make THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS a superior psychological thriller. In a crowded genre, it's becoming increasingly difficult to weed out the truly original and shocking from their slightly cliched - albeit often entertaining - counterparts. I'm here to make things easy for you: Michael Robotham has written a stunner. Pick this book up for its on-trend title and book jacket—stay for its hair-raising plot, gut-punch twists, and richly-developed characters. Told in dual narratives, Robotham has crafted a crime novel that's a bit like watching two trains barreling head-on towards one another: you know the outcome can only be disaster, but you just can't look away.
"In the bestselling tradition of The Girl on the Train and In a Dark, Dark Wood, from the internationally bestselling author whom Stephen King called “an absolute master” of the psychological thriller, comes a riveting suspense novel about the unlikely friendship between two pregnant women that asks: how far would you go to create the perfect family?
Agatha is pregnant and works part-time stocking shelves at a grocery store in a ritzy London suburb, counting down the days until her baby is due. As the hours of her shifts creep by in increasing discomfort, the one thing she looks forward to at work is catching a glimpse of Meghan, the effortlessly chic customer whose elegant lifestyle dazzles her. Meghan has it all: two perfect children, a handsome husband, a happy marriage, a stylish group of friends, and she writes perfectly droll confessional posts on her popular parenting blog—posts that Agatha reads with devotion each night as she waits for her absent boyfriend, the father of her baby, to maybe return her calls.
When Agatha learns that Meghan is pregnant again, and that their due dates fall within the same month, she finally musters up the courage to speak to her, thrilled that they now have the ordeal of childbearing in common. Little does Meghan know that the mundane exchange she has with a grocery store employee during a hurried afternoon shopping trip is about to change the course of her not-so-perfect life forever…
With its brilliant rendering of a shocking kidnapping plot and the secrets some women hold close, The Secrets She Keeps delivers a dark and twisted page-turner that is absolutely impossible to put down."
You know that feeling when you're reading a book that completely consumes you? I'm talking reading during your lunch break, staying up too late at night, total immersion. That's exactly what THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS did to me. This psychological suspense novel is vividly drawn, emotionally-charged, and impossible to put down. Readers looking for not just the next hot psychological thriller, but for a story that is superbly plotted and genuinely shocking, will find their perfect Summer 2017 read in THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS.
Right off the bat, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS differentiates itself from its psychological thriller peers. Told in alternating viewpoints, this book delves into the minds and lives of two very different women who have one significant commonality: they are both pregnant. Agatha is a bit of a lost soul: she's working at a grocery store, estranged from her mother, and pregnant by a man who is now absent from her life. Meg, on the other hand, seems to have it all: a loving husband, two beautiful children, a successful mommy blog, and another baby on the way. Robotham has brilliantly woven a crime novel that places the readers directly in the shoes of these two women whose lives are, right off the bat, a bit at odds with one another. Can we trust these women, and can they trust one one another?
If I had to pick just one phrase to describe this book, I would call it "character-driven." Through the distinct yet equally believable characters of Agatha and Meg, Robotham weaves a sinister web of lies and love. THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is fueled by the disastrous intersection of these women's lives—a chance encounter with deadly fallout.
My only potential word of warning to readers: expect to give this book 50 to 100 pages before it begins to deliver the urgency that we tend to expect from psychological thrillers. That’s not to say the beginning of this book is slow—rather, the author intentionally takes his time laying the foundation for the shocks and reveals that will follow later in the novel. The payoff for the author’s methodical plotting is huge: readers will find the story’s twists and turns all the more affecting for the time spent living in these character’s heads. And when this story shifts gears, it really shifts—I was shocked to discover just how much this book changes in pacing, tone, and content when the story reaches its turning point. Trust me, you'll know when you've arrived at this turning point—it's as though Robotham suddenly throws the curtains back, and what has begun as a character study laced with hints of menace is revealed for what it truly is: a sinister and genuinely shocking crime novel.
More than anything else, and in no small part thanks to its impeccable plotting and vivid characters, THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS will get under your skin. The crimes at the heart of this story are unthinkable, and I was surprised by what a visceral reaction I had to them—not because the crimes aren't deserving of a visceral reaction, they absolutely are, but because it's been a long time since a psychological thriller affected me as deeply as did THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS. Robotham shocks his readers not with blood and guts, but with a character whose manipulations and delusions are nothing short of evil—and to make matters worse, they seem somehow plausible. I don't want to spoil anything for you, but the crimes at the heart of this book truly are gut-wrenching—you'd be hard-pressed not to find yourself emotionally invested in this story's resolution.
It can be hard to tell which psychological thrillers will live up to their hype and which will fall flat. I went into THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS never having read a Michael Robotham novel, and I am so glad I made time for this brilliant book. THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS is tense, immersive, and emotional—a perfect blend of commercial thriller appeal and the kind of rich character development and masterful plotting that's simply hard to find. I can confidently recommend THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS for readers looking to be completely immersed in an exceptional psychological thriller this summer.
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Scribner (July 11, 2017)