The Husband’s Secret

9780399159343_p0_v4_s260x420What if – you found a letter with instructions to open after the writer died, but that person was still alive – would you open it?  I would not be able to resist, and when Liane Moriarty teased with that cliffhanger through several chapters – about 200 pages – of The Husband’s Secret, keeping the contents hidden, the speculation of what is in that letter is as much fun as learning the actual content.  If you remember Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot, you know she can take an improbable storyline and drench it with humor, pathos, and even a few life lessons.

Three lives intersect in this drama: Cecilia finds her husband’s sealed “do-not-open-until-after-death” letter in a stack of old tax forms, while he is on a business trip; Tess flees from Melbourne to Sydney with her young son when she discovers her husband and best friend have fallen in love – and asked that they all live together as one big family; Rachel’s beloved two-year-old grandson is about to relocate with his family to New York City, as she continues to search for the murderer of her teen-age daughter, killed twenty years ago.  Yes, there is a murder, but the mystery of whodunit is solved early in the tale, with consequences and suspicions connecting these three women’s disparate lives.

The story premise is captivating – I read it quickly to know the outcome, and Moriarty does produce an unexpected surprise at the end.  After the shocking climax, the denouement offers more likely “what if” scenarios that have a nostalgic effect, but the clear message to be responsible for yourself, not everyone else, can connect to all of us who get tired of being good all the time.

Hard to categorize Moriarty’s style – more than chick lit, mystery thriller, romance, beach read – and always satisfying.  Now I’m looking for some of her earlier books – seems there are quite a few I’ve missed from her website.

Review of “What Alice Forgot”

Sister

Bee is writing a letter to her younger sister, Tess, who has always been the feisty rebel to Bee’s steady resolve.  Tess will never get the letter – she has been murdered – and Rosamund Lupton uses this epistolary device to unravel the story in Sister.

Hearing from her mother that her sister is missing, Bee flies from New York to London to find her.  Although Tess’s body is discovered early on, the complicated back story incrementally revealing the motivation and the murderer sustains the suspense.  When Tess is found in an abandoned area with her wrists slit, the police conclude that she killed herself.  An affair with a married man that ended with Tess’s pregnancy and the still-born birth of her son seem to confirm the verdict.  But, Bee knows her sister and starts her own investigation.

As Tess tells her dead sister of her search for her killer, she begins a chronological accounting of her sister’s life, flashing back at times to their lives as children of a broken marriage, and the brother who died of cystic fibrosis.  Lupton creates a family drama that happens to involve a murder mystery.  As the sisters’ emotional relationship is gradually revealed, and the sibling rivalry mixes with the care and concern that connects them, Lupton develops their lives into a psychological thriller that’s hard to stop reading.

Throughout the narrative, she uses literary references that humanize Bee’s perspective as she tracks through the gore.  When Bee sees her dead sister’s body, she compares it to “a Desdemona, an Ophelia, a Cordelia – pale and stiff with death, a wronged heroine…”

“Dylan Thomas was wrong: death does have dominion. Death wins the war and the collateral damage is grief.  I never thought when I was an English literature student that I’d be arguing with poets, rather than learning their words.”

In her search for the truth, Bee suspects everyone, including: the father of Tess’s child, the stalker who saw her last in the park, the psychiatrist who misdiagnosed Tess with postpartum depression, the doctor who worked with Tess in a medical trial for cystic fibrosis.  Lupton keeps the action moving and the possibilities viable.

As she comes closer to revealing the murderer, Bee hints that something has happened to her, and that her own life is in danger.  The ending is a surprise – a twist that has been used before, but I didn’t see it coming.

A friend and fellow reader introduced me to this book, and I would not have found it in the stacks without her caution to look for the title with “a novel” attached.  Amazing how many sister books are available.

Knowing the author helps too.  This is Lupton’s debut novel; her second book – Afterwards – is already a success in the UK, but not due to be published in the United States until next year.  This time an arsonist is the key, and I’m looking forward to another wild ride.