Sunday, September 10, 2017

Book Review: 'Woman with a Secret' by Sophie Hannah

In "Woman with a Secret," by Sophie Hannah, forty-two year old former Londoner Nicki Clements is a stay-at-home mom who repeatedly engages in reckless behavior. Nicki endured an emotionally traumatic childhood and adolescence, left home at eighteen, and eventually married a good-hearted man named Adam. They are the parents of a ten-year-old daughter and an eight-year-old son. Does Nicki take pleasure in her comfortable existence? Of course not. We're talking about Sophie Hannah, right? Nicki is driven to live on the edge; she exchanges clandestine and prurient emails with men who share her predilection for the thrill of the forbidden. Hannah provides us with the texts of Nicki's missives as well as the replies she receives. We are also privy to the hysterical and chaotic thoughts that flit through her disordered mind as she tries to balance her normal life with the one she is desperate to keep under wraps.

When a well-known journalist is found murdered in a bizarre manner, with a cryptic message painted on the wall near his body, the brilliant and obsessive DC Simon Waterhouse and his team look into the case. Simon enlists the help of his wife, DS Charlotte (Charlie) Zailer, to find the perpetrator. Their task will prove challenging, since the victim used his newspaper column to vilify anyone whom he disliked. Consequently, there are quite a few suspects and not enough evidence to obtain a quick result. Nicki, who narrates part of the story, is high-strung, self-centered, and seems incapable of telling the truth for twenty-four hours at a stretch.

Hannah's latest psychological thriller and police procedural is a work of fiction from an author who loves to create impenetrable plots, twisted characters, and solutions that require a cryptologist's help to decipher. Nicki is irritatingly selfish, and there are other men and women on hand who are equally in need of therapeutic intervention. In spite of its off-the-wall elements, "Woman with a Secret" has some positive aspects. Sophie Hannah is an enthusiastic, intelligent, and capable writer who touches on such compelling themes as Internet bullying, hypocritical politicians, and dysfunctional relationships. The author keeps us guessing, and those of us who find Hannah's quirky brand of mayhem intriguing will want to stick around to find out who did what to whom and why. "Woman with a Secret" may be weird, improbable, and a bit too long, but it is strangely mesmerizing.

Editor's note: This review was written by Eleanor Bukowsky and has been reposted with permission. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right