Every Secret Thing, by Emma Cole

>> Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ever since I read The Shadowy Horses, back in April 2003, I've regularly googled Susanna Kearsley's name, trying to find out whatever I could about upcoming books (as do many other people, apparently. I always get a few people a week in my blog who found me after searching for this author's name). It was frustrating, because for a long time there was nothing at all that I could find, other than listings of her older books at several booksellers' sites. So I was incredibly thrilled when a routine search a few months ago turned up her new website, and even more thrilled when that website mentioned a new book, Every Secret Thing, soon to be published under a new pseudonym, Emma Cole.

And my thrilledness (yes, yes, I know that's not a word) increased exponentially when Karen the Kearsley fan, with whom I'd got in contact at around the same time, came back from a Kearsley book signing asking for my addy and saying she had something for me. Yep, she was sending me an autographed copy of the book, and I literally did a victory dance when it arrived. So thank you ever so much for that Karen and Susanna!

When an old man strikes up a conversation with her on the steps of St Paul’s and makes a mystifying mention of murder and an oddly familiar comment about her grandmother, Kate Murray is intrigued. But she never gets to hear the rest of Andrew Deacon’s tale. Shocked by his unexpected death, she wonders who this strange old man was, and what the odd reference to her grandmother could mean. Interest piqued by the story never told, Kate becomes drawn into an investigation, uncovering secrets about the grandmother she thought she knew, and a man she never did. Soon she is caught up in a dangerous whirlwind of events that takes her back into her grandmother’s mysterious war-time past and across the Atlantic as she tries to retrace Deacon’s footsteps.

Finding out the truth is not so simple, however, as only a few people are still alive who know the story and Kate soon realizes that her questions are putting their lives in danger. Stalked by an unknown and sinister enemy, and facing death every step of the way, Kate must use her tough journalist instinct to find the answers from the past in order to have a future.
Reading what I wrote above, you probably have some idea of how much I wanted to love and adore this book. And you can probably imagine, too, how hard it is for me to say that though I did like it well enough, I wasn't blown away by it. I'd rate it a B.

Journalist Kate Murray is in London covering a story when she's approached by an old man who sits next to her on a park bench. Kate doesn't pay much attention to what she first thinks of as his rambling about old murders and justice, but her attention is firmly engaged when the man mentions her grandmother. And even more when the man is the victim of a hit and run the moment she walks away from her, right after his cryptic comment about her grandma.

Shocked and intrigued, Kate tries to find out more about this old man, Andrew Deacon, but what he finds is even more baffling. There was something he meant for her to investigate, some old murder he wanted justice for. But just what is it? From what Kate can find out, it's something to do with his spying work in Lisbon during World War II... old business, right?

But when tragedy strikes, and very close to Kate, too, it becomes clear that that for someone, that old business is still relevant today. Someone very much cares about keeping this secret still a secret, and this person is willing to kill to keep it so. As if discovering the secrets of the past weren't complicated enough, Kate will have to do so while staying one step ahead of this unknown, mysterious enemy.

There were many things I loved here. The Lisbon sections, for instance, were absolutely fantastic, both the current day ones and the flashbacks. Maybe the reason I felt that way was because this was was where I most saw the Susanna Kearsley touches I love so much. I saw them in the vividness and beauty of the setting, in the way Kate's investigations took place against such a clear backdrop, and one that wasn't simply incidental, but played a role in events.

I also saw them in the process through which the events of the past started taking form, the way Kate's interviews with people who'd known Deacon during the war started painting a picture of how things had been back then. And this picture was just fascinating. This is something I've never thought much about: what was going on in the countries that had declared themselves neutral during WWII? Apparently, there were some very dangerous games being played there. Spying and counterspying and manouvering, and all kinds of things that showed that the country itself might have been neutral, but the people there were anything but.

It wasn't just the WWII events in Portugal that were so good, I also really liked the connection between Kate's grandmother and Deacon in New York, even though I'm not the greatest fan of doomed love stories. At least the doomedness was perfectly clear from the start, so it all remained bittersweet to me, rather than disappointing.

Unfortunately, as much as I liked all this, there several things that dampened my enjoyment a bit. First and foremost, there's the fact that Kate never came alive for me. I never got a clear picture of who she was, and the more time we spent with her, the shadowier she became. Which, obviously, made it hard for me to care about her. It's strange, because the characters in the flashbacks did become vivid and real and completely three-dimensional, even the secondary characters. But Kate, who should have been much more accessible and immediate to me, was flat, and I didn't much care what happened to her. I did want her to succeed in her investigation, yes, but not at all for her sake. I wanted the secret out solely because that wonderful man Deacon deserved it.

And if Kate was blah, that goes a hundredfold for her love interest. Unless this is your first visit to my blog, you'll probably know that I look for romance even in the books I read outside of the genre. When I dip my toes into fantasy, it's usually something with a strong romantic thread, and the same goes when I read mystery, or science fiction, or thrillers, or whatever else. And yet, in this book, I found myself wishing Kate's romance thread would have been cut altogether. It was just so lukewarm and unexciting!

Another thing I thought disappointing was the ending. First of all, I imagine many people will find it anticlimactic. That's not a huge problem for me (I mean, the ending of The Shadowy Horses was pretty anticlimactic, too, and I rated that book an A+ anyway), but the fact that I didn't feel like I'd got much emotional payoff was.

See, emotional payoff for me would have been having Kate's investigations slowly, slowly bring out the truth. But they don't. All they do, really, is paint a good picture of what was going on at the time in Lisbon, and give us a clue about the players. Sure, I liked this very much, as I mentioned above, but as fascinating as this was, it doesn't compensate for the fact that the big revelations come in a somewhat deus ex machina fashion.

Do keep in mind, though, that as much as I'm criticizing several aspects of this book, I did enjoy it, and I would recommend it. It's just that I didn't love it and adore it quite as much as I was hoping for that is making me sound a bit down.


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