The Secrets of Strangers
by Charity Norman
Rated: 5 stars *****
Tense, compelling, touching, The Secret of Strangers is an excellent read. I can well see why the author has made it to the Radio 2 Bookclub and with a previous book – The Richard and Judy Bookclub. It is with thanks to the publisher Allen & Unwin that I have the great opportunity for reviewing The Secrets of Strangers – a stand-alone novel. It’s a Must Read thriller set in a cafe and one, I am ecstatic to share with you as a tale of one gunman and three hostages unfolds. I loved this book so, so much!!! Read on for more info and my full review, that I’ve approached from a slightly different angle this time of writing it.
About the Author
Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years’ travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. THE SECRETS OF STRANGERS is her sixth novel.
A regular weekday morning veers drastically off-course for five strangers whose paths cross in a London café – their lives never to be the same again when an apparently crazed gunman holds them hostage.
But there is more to the situation than first meets the eye and as the captives grapple with their own inner demons, the line between right and wrong starts to blur. Will the secrets they keep stop them from escaping with their lives?
Another tense, multi-dimensional drama from the writer of the Richard & Judy bestseller After the Fall.
This book is absolutely terrific and so unputdownable. Sleep eluded me. I didn’t want to get to the end because I seriously didn’t want to have to leave this book and yet I really, really needed to see how it would all end. It was seriously that good and it’s a book I imagine I will read again someday. I was pulled into this book gripping book within the first few pages and time knew no bounds as it ticked on by as the pages turned ever so easily from one to the next, never stopping to look at a clock.
Told through 6 main characters – Abi, Eliza, Mutesi, Sam, Neil, Rosie as they more or less take on the chapters, this is a captivating book which is incredibly well-written and the more I read, the more I want to keep going through the intensity of what is ultimately an eloquently told story within the premise of a hostage situation in a cafe. This is a story of the time of being taken hostage and the very human story surrounding this and how people get to know each other a little more and about the secrets they have.
Meet the characters:
Neil is quickly established as being homeless, but used to work for a company making medical equipment. He used to be a teacher prior to being made homeless and has quite a story to tell.
Abi works as a barrister and has worked on many cases. She has also been struggling to conceive, even with IVF with Charlie. It’s emotive.
Mutesi cleans in the church – St. Judes and is a nurse in a carehome and you wonder what more there is to her, which is discovered in the book.
Eliza works for the MET in the serious crime unit and is also a hostage negotiator. She has a family – a teenage son and a husband – Richard who is self-employed. It was all love at first sight, whilst travelling on a train on the beautiful East Coast Railway. A line I have travelled often on, as has many people. She has quite a role to play as is involved in negotations.
Sam at 8 years old, helps around his parent’s farm and is keen to be a farmer and less keen on school, where he gets support for his dyslexia. I do love how his dad likes when the school is on summer holidays and comes across as having a terrific attitude to them. This is until tragedy strikes. Everything changed! Psychologically everything changed. There is a powerful theme within that, handled sensitively and so well as destruction ensues. More secrets come out and there’s some cause and effect that is presented in the story. There’s some sinister goings on with him being manipulated for years. It is interesting to see how and why he ends up where he is as an adult.
Rosie – despises her dad- until she really needs his help that is and is interesting how that unfolds
The rest of my thoughts on what is an exceptional book
There’s a lovely sounding cafe called Tuckbox, whose usual hustle and bustle is disturbed one day when a gun man walks in and the atmosphere rapidly changes and there’s a real sense of urgency in the writing as circumstances change.
The tension that builds is just phenomenal, as is the clarity of writing and that with the music references that are scattered throughout works so well together.
What else that is is so great about reading this book, is it is so easy to follow because it flows so well from character to character. The book really is like looking into The Tuckshop Cafe and seeing exactly where each character is and what’s happening in each of their lives at every step of the hostage situation they find themselves in.
You feel the anguish of each person as the hostage situation builds and also at times, an almost claustrophobic atmosphere as they try and find hiding places to keep safe. Also as tension builds up, so do the characters as readers get a deeper insight into their lives.
There’s the sense of danger and delicacy of negotiating the hostage taker, that is written so naturally and well.
What else can be said, except, this is an exceptional book that I highly recommend as a Must Read.
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