Woman with a Secret
Sophie Hannah
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Buy *Woman with a Secret* by Sophie Hannahonline

Woman with a Secret
Sophie Hannah
William Morrow
384 pages
August 2015
rated 4 of 5 possible stars

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An online communication sets the stage, an ad titled “I Want a Secret,” and a diabolical plot is born. Woman with a Secret is a closed-room mystery in the age of social media, secrets ever at risk of exposure, the seemingly innocent peccadilloes of others open to interpretation by third parties. The hard-learned lesson of internet perpetuity is often lost in the excitement of the moment, when anonymity beckons and discretion is forgotten with the promise of immediate gratification.

The murder of an acerbic, controversial columnist is at the heart of this novel. But between the truth and the murder, there are layers of facts, relationships, and guilty secrets. No matter how cleverly a killer has disguised his message, no matter the confusing imagery, the body of the irascible victim, tagged “HE IS NO LESS DEAD,” can eventually be unraveled, revealing the artist of the man’s demise. This particular puzzle falls to local detectives in Spilling, England, outside London--in particular Detective Constable Simon Waterhouse, ably assisted albeit unofficially by his bright and intuitive wife, Charlie. While the two will collaborate in deciphering deliberately complicated clues from the scene--bound hands and feet, a sharpened knife duct-taped to the dead man’s mouth--Waterhouse’s fellow detectives contribute whatever information they find, details of their private lives adding flavor to a grueling investigation with far too many variables.

Hannah builds a rogue’s gallery of possibilities as the story evolves, the victim awash in enemies and critics, a writer with a vicious streak who enjoys stimulating conflict in scathingly critical articles. An assortment of frayed characters illustrate the facets of human nature, like a wily school headmistress, a righteous sister-in-law with suspicious motives, a secretive ex-MP, and the star of the tale, Nicki Clements, who blunders into a murder investigation by virtue of compulsive behavior and a paucity of discretion.

A married mother of two, Nicki has devised an alternate online life, sharing her secrets with a virtual stranger. Truly in love with her husband, Adam, Nicki needs to rebel, chronically makes foolish decisions that beget troublesome consequences. Passing Blundy’s home frequently after his murder, Clements is caught on CCTV, of passing interest to detectives who request an interview. Nicky’s discomfort--born of a guilty conscienc-- renders her memorable, triggering continued curiosity and the eventual examination of her online history. It is a tangled web, to be sure, begun innocently enough but explosive in its revelations.

Hannah bobs and weaves, casting a wide net, drawing characters into a dense web with the enigmatic clues at the crime scene and a woman’s obsession with creating a secret life. Balancing precise interviews with potential suspects with the chaotic episodes that litter Nicki’s life, the drama accelerates, the procedural in sharp contrast to Nicki’s inability to keep her two worlds separate. The craving for excitement opens the door to a nightmare, a dangerous entanglement in a sophisticated world beyond her ability to understand. This author is an acquired taste, one that grows more seductive as the story unfolds, characters scattered, dead and alive, in a series of unusual relationships that defy easy explanation, victims of their own weaknesses or folly. Yet there is a solution to the closed-room puzzle, a murderer like any other--and just as guilty.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Luan Gaines, 2015

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