24/10/2011

Want to know a secret? (by Sue Moorcroft)

It's over four years, now, since I first read a book by Sue Moorcroft: 'Uphill all the way'. I liked it very much indeed, and looked forward to reading more of her books. However I was less impressed by 'Starting Over', which I read a couple of years later, and her other books have not had a very high profile. I read Sue Moorcroft's blog and enjoy her writing advice, but by the time I looked for others of her published novels, they seemed to have gone out of print.

So I was delighted to discover three of them available inexpensively for the Kindle recently. I started reading 'Want to Know a Secret?' on a flight, and then found myself reading a bit more in every free moment I had.

This novel begins with what could have been rather a cliched scene: two large policeman are dominating Diane's kitchen, having just brought her some bad news. Her husband Gareth has been in an accident, although they think he will pull through. But the scene rapidly becomes almost surreal as Diane, in her shock, hears about an accident in circumstances which sound so unlikely that she wonders if it's a case of mistaken identity. Yet the man unconscious in hospital seems, beyond all reasonable doubt, to be indeed her husband.

When at last persuaded to go and visit Gareth, she meets some people who clearly know him well and who seem to know a great deal about her - but whom she has never even heard of. And their resulting conversations do nothing to clarify what is going on initially, although some shocking surprises gradually emerge.

Diane's situation feels almost like a terrible dream, at first. I felt drawn into the story quickly, and found myself empathising quite strongly with her confusion. She is clearly not deluded, or mentally unstable. She's a hard-working woman with a small clothes-making business who sometimes struggles to make ends meet. She is perhaps too trusting, almost naive at times, but she cares deeply for her family and is currently missing her daughter, who is working abroad for a charity.

The story gradually unfolds, and slowly things start to make sense. Issues of greed, depression, snobbery and selfishness arise, and I began to see how such a scenario could possibly happen. Diane is far from perfect, the daughter of over-protective, angry parents who pushed her into a marriage which made life often difficult for her. Yet she is immensely likeable, as are several of the other people whom she gets to know. Sue Moorcroft has a great gift for characterisation, and tells a good story; it's a pity - in my opinion - that her work is not more widely known, and that the printed versions of her books go out of print so quickly.

My only mild personal criticism of this book is that there are a couple of over-detailed intimate scenes. They don't quite descend into sordidity, but I felt they were unnecessary - and somehow, did not match well with the characters of the people involved. Perhaps this kind of scene was required by the publisher, but the book would have read rather better with just a hint - or, indeed, slightly more restraint from people who were normally generous and responsible.

Still, overall I enjoyed the book very much and would recommend it highly. 'Want to Know a Secret' is still in print in the UK, a year after publication, and available second-hand in the USA, so the Amazon links are to the paperback version, although the Kindle editions are somewhat cheaper.

review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 24th October 2011

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