How much can you ever really know another person? Can you trust them, and should you?

The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas poses these questions. I was sent this book as part of the Transworld Book Club which I joined because it gave me a great excuse to read more books. This was a great book to begin with because you have to keep reading to find out what happens next. It’s narrator, Sarah, is believable and engaging. You instantly identify with. Sarah has been betrayed by the person she loved and trusted most in the world, her husband, after they lost their baby. You can’t help but sympathise with her at the start of the novel. She is on holiday in Sicily with her sister, to take some time to think and get over the betrayal, when she meets the enigmatic Alexander.

In what seems a clear case of being on the rebound, she goes to live with Alex and his very complicated family set up, as his nanny and mistress. His wife has walked out on him and his son in mysterious circumstances. The book presents Sarah and the reader with the dilemma of whether to trust Alex. Did he have a hand in his wife’s disappearance? If not why did she leave when her life was seemingly so perfect?

I keep wanting to write Max instead of Alex in this review. This is because this novel has a clear debt to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. It is a debt which is mentioned in the blurb, in the acknowledgements at the back of the book and even in the text itself. Rebecca was the first adult novel I read (for obvious reasons it called out to me from the school library shelves) and it’s story still haunts me. The first line of Du Maurier’s novel is unforgettable and regularly tops the best opening line of a novel lists, it is held up as an example to aspiring novel writers. This is a hard act to follow, but I want to judge this book on it’s own merit.

There are a lot of similarities: a crumbling country house with similar names Avalon and Manderley; a missing wife who vanished in mysterious circumstances, the new partner who can’t get out of her predecessor’s shadow. These mostly add to the tension of the novel. Anyone who has read Rebecca will know where that story leads and will wonder if Alex’s wife meets the same fate. The only part where I think the novel lacks is in its portrayal of the hero Alex, who is in many ways a cardboard copy of Max, though with a more colourful vocaubulary. He is so mysterious and inscrutable, it is hard to understand why Sarah stays with him.

The strongest part of the novel, for me was the narrator Sarah. The novel is written in the first person and you are with her the whole way and genuinely concerned for her fate. She is like a naive best friend who you just want to shake and tell her to sort her life out. Her feelings concerning her previous relationship, and her lost child are convincing and sensitively handled.

There are a few issues which I don’t feel are completely resolved. Why did Gen hide her laptop? Why did Jamie destroy the only letter he had from his mother? These, however don’t detract from the pace and enjoyment of the novel. Also the characters are constantly exhausted – not good when you’re the mother of twins who doesn’t need reminding she should go to bed earlier!

The novel is tense and gripping until the last page. Sarah is isolated from her neighbours, who treat her with distain. There is a supernatural element, which while not my favourite part, adds to the sense of foreboding when Sarah is alone in the house. You also have the feeling Sarah is losing her mind. She is an unreliable narrator and you begin to doubt her recall of events, as she does. This makes it more exciting, as you wonder how she will be able to keep herself safe when she is losing her grip of reality.

Don’t be put off by the cover of the book, this is not a soapy romance, but more of a psychological thriller, a whodunnit and a ghost story rolled into one.

This was a sponsored link as part of the Transworld Book Group Reading Challenge. Bloggers can choose four books which they review on their site between August and October. I received a complimentary copy of the book which I had reviewed honestly. To take part in the challenge and see the rest of the books featured go to:
http://www.between-the-lines.co.uk/?p=1378