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Posts Tagged ‘family secrets’

millvalleyWhen she’s 11 and selling corn from a roadside stand, Mimi Miller knows her place in the world — the same small farm in Pennsylvania her family’s owned for 200 years. The flood-prone area is even known as Miller’s Valley. But only a few years later, Mimi already is missing the girl she used to be. “Getting older wasn’t working out so well for me.” Her best friend Donald has moved away, and so has her oldest brother, Edward. Her other brother, charming Tommy, has joined the Marines, gotten a local girl in trouble, been sent to Vietnam, gotten into drugs. Rumors that the government is going to flood the valley under a water-management plan are firming into facts. The ground even feels soggier. Mimi’s father lives in a state of denial and keeps the sump pumps running. Her mother refuses to get involved. “Let the water cover the whole damn place,” she says. About the only thing that hasn’t changed is that Aunt Ruth, her mother’s sister, still  refuses to leave the small house at the back of the Millers, even when floodwaters send her to the attic.

Anna Quindlen’s emotionally resonant new novel, Miller’s Valley (Random House, digital galley), is a coming-of-age novel distinguished by the intimate voice of narrator Mimi and a specificity of detail and image. The fog can lie “as thick as cotton candy” on the valley floor, a neighbor woman is remembered for “her lavender smell and warm pies.” When Tommy comes home, he has “a tough little barking laugh. . . a mean second cousin to a real laugh.” But Tommy also warns Mimi not to get sidetracked by her boyfriend, an older construction worker with whom she’s in love and lust. Tommy wants Mimi to concentrate on getting out of Miller’s Valley. “Don’t get stuck.” Mimi’s good grades and a college scholarship are going to be her way out, until a family crisis throws up a roadblock.

Families, friends, first loves, old secrets. Quindlen’s story flows like the rising river, moving faster as it nears the end. A mystery surfaces unexpectedly, and Mimi must decide whether to pursue it or to let it go, even as she tries to find traction on the slippery slope of change, at home in a world both familiar and strange.

 

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Whew! Glad that’s over. Oh, wait. You thought I was talking about the election? Well, that, too. But it seemed like it took me forever to finish Kate Morton’s new doorstop of a novel The Secret Keeper (Atria Books, digital galley via NetGalley & paperback ARC). I loved Morton’s The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden, but just liked The Distant Hours and now this one. Too many secrets but not enough surprises.

Fifty years ago, 16-year-old Laurel witnessed her mother Dorothy’s violent encounter with a stranger. Now Dorothy is turning 90 and in frail help; Laurel, an accomplished actress, joins her younger sisters at the family farm and is determined to find out the truth about the glossed-over incident. Several clues — an inscribed copy of Peter Pan, a photo of two young women, and the murmured name “Jimmy” — lead her back to the London Blitz, when Dorothy, aka Dolly, was a bright young thing from Coventry doing her bit for the war effort. She has a photographer boyfriend, and she greatly admires a beautiful neighbor, Vivien, married to a famous author.

Morton seamlessly shifts between present and past, spinning involving stories within stories. Laurel eventually connects the dots, proving that, as a child, you never really know what your parents were up to when they were young, and how long-kept secrets shape lives over time. The characters are interesting, the wartime atmosphere evoked in detail, but the plot’s not that original. Morton reminded me of a kinder, gentler Barbara Vine, the pseudonym Ruth Rendell uses when writing her serpentine tales. Vine/Rendell is more likely to tie up loose ends with a noose instead of a big bow.

Laura, the intense, angst-ridden narrator of Jenn Ashworth’s Cold Light (HarperCollins, digital galley via NetGalley), has been keeping secrets for a decade about her 14-year-old best friend’s suicide pact with her boyfriend. It has damaged her life to the point that she has no life to speak of — a menial cleaning job where she can remain an outsider, no friends except Emma, who was also close to dead Chloe. Now, at a ceremony commemorating Chloe, another body is found. Laura knows the identity of the corpse and the terrifying circumstances that led to a long-ago accidental death — or was it murder? Ashworth fashions a chilly tale of friendship, jealousy, betrayal.

Fiona Griffiths, the rookie Cardiff cop who stars in Harry Bingham’s Talking to the Dead (Random House, digital galley via NetGalley), has secrets in her background to rival those of the victims in the cases she works. There’s the two-year-gap in her resume, for starters, and there’s also the matter of her close family’s history with crime. These secrets are alluded to as Fiona — young, intense, a bit of an odd duck — is detailed to the sordid death of a hooker and her six-year-old daughter. Drugs are the likely culprit, but the credit card of a missing tycoon hints at something darker, deeper. Bingham jump-starts this new series with a complicated protagonist with unusual issues.

I don’t think it’s possible for a good Southern mystery not to have family secrets, but Margaret Maron does her Deborah Knott series proud with  The Buzzard Table (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley via NetGalley.) She provides a heaping helping of secrets small and large, private and public as her other series detective, NYPD’s Sigrid Harald, joins Deborah and her deputy sheriff husband Dwight on their North Carolina home turf.

Sigrid and her mother, prize-winning photographer Anne Lattimore, have returned to visit the ailing family matriarch, as has long-lost cousin Martin Crawford, an ornithologist studying Southern vultures. He unfortunately manages to be in at the scene of several crimes — the discovery of the dumped body of a murdered real-estate agent in the woods, the vicious assault on a nerdy high school student, and the unexplained death of a man at a nearby airport hotel. The airfield itself is a point of contention as the CIA is using it as a fueling stop.

Maron adroitly shifts perspectives among the characters, including personable Deborah’s first-person narrative, and opens each chapter with fascinating details about buzzards, natural recycling machines who get little respect. They have secrets, too.

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