Kate Morton, for the uninitiated, is a writer who writes the kind of big books that regularly find their way onto Richard & Judy lists. Her novels tread that delicate and difficult path that will have you extolling the virtues of its ‘easy to read-ness’ even as you perhaps struggle to get across just how complex the narratives themselves can be at times. We are in the world of family secrets, historical mysteries and intrigue. Like Jodie Picoult, she arguably has a similar template she adheres to for each novel; but like Kate Atkinson, say, her writing is compelling enough to keep you coming back for more.
Her latest opens with a subtle nod towards Atonement: Laurel, a young girl hiding in a treehouse to escape a birthday party, spies a professionally dressed man walk up the drive to her house and greet her mother – before her mother, seemingly apropos of nothing, stabs the man to death. Lying on her mother’s behalf (saying the man was attacking her mother and the murder was in fact an act of self defense), the criminal act recedes into the distance and the novel moves years into the future. Laurel is now a celebrated actress and her mother is dying. Called back to the house with her three sisters and her brother, she works to uncover just who the mystery man was and why her mother was drawn to kill him. It goes pretty much without saying that there is an explosive secret at the heart of the family and the climax of the book will either have you reading in open mouthed shock or rolling your eyes and saying, ‘That’s a bit daft.’ (In all truth, I found myself a bit of both.)
The Secret Keeper is slightly more contemporary than her previous novels (which had narratives that switched and swirled back and forth between now and the kinds of times that Sarah Waters and Emma Donoghue are more familiar with), whilst retaining Morton’s sure grasp of period detail. Fans will find much here to enjoy. If you’re new to her, this novel is easily as good as her preceding books which makes it as good a place as any to give her a try.
Any Cop?: Populist fiction, without a doubt, and the kind of book that will have certain Bookmunch readers saying ‘never in a million years will I pick up a book like that’ – but if you’re not a snob and you enjoy a good read that you can natter about with your mates, you could do a lot worse than dabble with Kate Morton (and if you run a reading group, she’s a great one to get you gabbing).