Woman with a Secret
William Morrow, August 2015
Woman with a Secret is a book that could only have been written now, in the middle of the second decade of the twenty-first century. While some of its themes – infidelity, the nature of love, the mysteries within marriages, human perversity – are ageless, the way they are explored in this novel is through the thoroughly modern world of online bloggers, Twitter, and virtual dating websites.
The book begins, traditionally, with a murder. Outrageously opinionated Damon Blundy, a celebrity columnist, is found dead in his house in a suburb outside London. The crime scene is bizarre – a knife is taped to Blundy’s face, but was not used to kill him, there’s a knife sharpener in the room, and the killer even leaves an unrecognizable self-portrait to mock the police. There’s also a cryptic clue painted on the wall: the phrase “He is no less dead”, which baffles the crime scene officers and detectives.
While the book is partly a police procedural, it is much more of a literary novel, with an intense focus on people’s hidden motivations and secret lives. The story is told from a number of different perspectives. There are sections made up of Damon Blundy’s columns, and some of the Twitter wars resulting from the things he has written. These mostly consist of debates about a disgraced cyclist who strongly resembles Lance Armstrong , about a weed-saturated literary novelist named Reuben Tasker, and about gorgeous former MP Paula Riddough, and her faithlessness. These chapters alternate with descriptions of the police investigation, mainly featuring arrogant, single-minded Simon Waterhouse, and Simon’s wife Charlie Zailer. The sections that are perhaps the most compelling are the first-person, present-tense chapters narrated by Nicki Clements, a feverish, rattled, possibly pathological housewife tormented by an upsetting childhood and a marriage that bores her.
I couldn’t say that I liked Woman with a Secret, because I’m not fond of unreliable narrators, and I didn’t find any of the characters likeable. However, it was an interesting taste of current literary mystery fiction, and I was fascinated by the author’s focus on social media – both the true revelations and the lies that many of us now seek out daily online. Hannah explores people’s psyches deeply, and in a manner that’s often unpleasant, reminding us how cold and selfish some of our motivations can be. Not surprisingly, given the title, Hannah delves specifically into questions around honesty and dishonesty, and all that surrounds those qualities: righteousness, cheating, mistrust, forgiveness. Despite all of the nasty twists and convoluted psychological turns in this book that left me wondering if anyone in it was capable of experiencing real love or friendship, I think the author has captured something authentic about the difficulties of recognizing the truth in the current smoke-and-mirrors atmosphere of social media.
Reviewed by Andrea Thompson, May 2016.