Fiction – Kindle edition; Allen & Unwin; 214 pages; 2017.
Nicole Trope’s domestic suspense The Secrets in Silence employs a dual narrative to tell the story of two troubled people — a teenage girl and a middle-aged woman — and how their lives become entwined in a strange and unusual way.
Tara, a young teenager, has given birth in a public toilet but cannot recall any details of the event and has returned home without the baby — and without her voice. Because she can no longer speak she is unable to help her parents (who did not know about the pregnancy), nor the police, locate the newborn, and her story has now hit the news headlines. There is the very real threat that if the baby is discovered dead that Tara will be charged with murder.
Meanwhile, Minnie, a morbidly obese single woman in her late 40s, finds the baby and brings it home with her. She dreams up an elaborate plan to pass it off, first as her imaginary cousin’s offspring, then as her own daughter from an unplanned pregnancy. For the most part she gets away with it.
But, eventually, these two storylines converge (though not in a predictable way) and Minnie’s crime, and Tara’s part in it, is set to be exposed.
Fast, compelling read
The Secrets in Silence might be a zippy little read (I ploughed through it in the course of a day), one that sounds a bit sensationalist and over-the-top, but it’s got a lot going on in it.
The story is underpinned by social commentary — about dysfunctional families, dysfunctional neighbourhoods, dysfunctional sexual relationships — and how silence, whether by choice or enforcement, acts as a coping mechanism for many people. Trope writes about the “voiceless” — in this case a teenage girl and a lonely older woman — and shows what happens to them when they get caught up in events much larger than themselves.
But what makes the story really work is the suspense element. Trope expertly ratchets up the tension, keeping the reader on tenterhooks as both Tara and Minnie dance around each other, unaware of their shared connection. When will the penny drop, you wonder.
Trope is also excellent at creating a strong cast of believable characters. Aside from the two central figures in the story, there’s a collection of well-drawn subsidiary characters, which include Tara’s successful father, her trying-too-hard stepmother, her institutionalised mother and her stuttering boyfriend, who succumbs to peer pressure and bullying far too easily. Then there’s Minnie’s neighbours — the kind, understanding June and the horrible collection of inconsiderate criminally minded young men, who are noisy and abusive, that live in the house on the corner.
All in all, The Secrets in Silence is a terrifically fun and provocative read. It’s intelligent and intensely paced, perfect for a lazy day by the pool — or the fireside.
This is my 13th book for #AWW2018 and my 8th book for #20booksofsummer. I bought it on 23 March 2017, for the princely sum of 99p, purely on the strength of Trope’s earlier novel, Hush, Little Bird, which I read in 2016 and really enjoyed.