I first read Robotham two years ago when I picked up Life and Death. I really liked his writing style (except for the present tense, although he at least does it decently) so I picked up the Joseph O’Laughlin series several months later. I really grew to love the characters in those books, and some of them were so intense I could barely put them down. Robotham generally does a decent job of keeping things high stakes without devolving into lots of violence and sex. While I haven’t found him to be a perfect writer, the quality has been consistent enough to keep me working through his back log (as well as looking forward to the new O’Laughlin book coming out this month!!).
The Secrets She Keeps is told in alternating viewpoints between two women, Meg and Agatha. Both women are pregnant and due around the same time. Agatha works in a shop and admires Meg from afar – she sees Meg as having the perfect life: a handsome husband, two other children, a lovely house. However, Meg’s narrative tells us that everything isn’t as amazing as it may appear. She and her husband are having some disagreements (what a shock) and Meg has made a big mistake that is eating away at her peace of mind.
Here’s the thing: this book doesn’t have a big twist. By about a quarter of the way in, I had a pretty solid idea of how the whole story was going to unwind – but I kept reading. Robotham created a situation where the tension was so heightened that I couldn’t look away. The train wreck kept getting closer and closer and I had to keep watching. I loved it.
I also really appreciated how Robotham was able to make Agatha such a sympathetic character despite the fact that everything she was doing was super wrong. He did a great job putting me in a position where while I couldn’t quite justify Agatha’s actions, I could still definitely understand them, and even feel empathy for her situation.
This book would have been an easy 4* read, but I had some very serious issues with the way Meg’s story wrapped up – not in a narrative way, which was quite satisfying, but morally. As usual in fiction these days, there is a very clear double standard presented, with the female in two scenarios getting a completely different conclusion than the males. This casual assumption that the woman is right about this just genuinely infuriates me. The non-spoiler is basically I’m tired of women acting like they can have an affair or have complete control over a child’s parentage. Husbands and fathers deserve the same rights as wives and mothers. They aren’t second-class citizens. Cheating on a husband is just as horrible as cheating on a wife. And a man absolutely deserves to know whether or not a child belongs to him. Refusing to allow him to find out the truth is WRONG. If you’re interested in a spoilery rant, see below.
I will also say that it felt like this book had a bit more sex than some of the others (although in fairness, so did Watching You – I have delicate sensibilities), but it wasn’t like it was every chapter or anything. It was actually kind of interesting to see how both women, at some level, used sex as a tool to get what they wanted (another double standard to rant about on another day haha).
At the end of the day, an easy 3.5* read. While not the twistiest thriller I’ve come across, it was still thoroughly engaging.
And while I probably would have gotten to this book someday anyway, as I’m slowly reading all of Robotham’s books, this one got an extra boost from a couple of reviews – Cleopatra and Stephanie both had interesting things to say about this one.
Spoiler rage below :-D
Meg (“good” character) has had an affair, which we find out early on in the book. We get long stretches of her feeling guilty about this. It was a one-night stand with a long-time friend, and someone with whom she used to have a relationship before she married her husband, Jack. The one-night stand happened right around the time that she got pregnant, and now the that guy, Simon, thinks that Meg’s baby may be his.
Two big things that annoyed me. A lot.
First: Eventually, Meg finds out that Jack also had an affair. His lasted much longer, and he had sex with this woman multiple times. At this point, Meg decides that Jack’s affair was “worse” than hers, so she never confesses her indiscretion. So while I liked that Meg and Jack decide to go forward with their marriage, I found myself genuinely angry that Meg has decided that continuing to lie/withhold information from Jack is okay, because he messed up “more”, as though extramarital affairs are somehow on a sliding scale where a one-night stand is “almost okay”. Plus, now she gets to go forward – and already is – acting super self-righteous and making Jack grovel, despite the fact that SHE DID THE SAME THING. What even. It kind of made me hate her a little for being such a smug bitch of a woman.
Second: Where does Meg get off acting like Simon doesn’t have the right to know whether or not this baby is his? She pretends like it’s because she doesn’t want to endanger her marriage. But like her friend said when Meg presented her with a “hypothetical” situation – the wife endangered her marriage the moment she decided to have a one-night stand. Once again, Meg likes she’s the suffering victim, but the truth is that even if Simon really is a selfish jerk, he’s still a selfish jerk who deserves to know whether or not that baby is his. I’m tired of this attitude that fathers don’t deserve the same rights as mothers. What a bunch of absolute cow crap. The very fact that Meg gives him DNA from her other child instead of the baby for Simon to test proves that she genuinely doesn’t know who the father is, but has decided that Simon doesn’t deserve to know the truth, because it will mess up her pretty little life. News flash, you horrible, selfish, hypocritical woman: you already screwed up when you decided to have sex with someone who wasn’t your husband!
It’s funny, because in the end I actually weirdly liked Agatha better. Her life was really, really horrible, and had obviously screwed with her mind at a deep level. So her actions weren’t exactly justifiable, but they were understandable. And even though she knew, somewhere down deep, that what she was doing was wrong, she was also doing what she felt like she had to do in order to survive.
But Meg? She was just selfish and whiny. Instead of talking with her husband like an adult, she went off and banged his best friend. Instead of confessing her wrong and going forward, she continued to lie and feel guilty – and allow that guilt to make her cranky and snappy at her husband all the time. When she finds out about Jack’s affair, she immediately makes herself the victim and him the villain – and makes him pay despite “forgiving” him. Instead of dealing with the consequences of her actions, she lies to Simon, too, so that she can basically pretend like she never made any mistakes and has always been perfect.
I hope that Meg and Jack can make a go of it, but the truth of the matter is that I don’t have a lot of confidence in any relationship built on lies.