Happy publication day to author Jennifer Hillier and Minotaur Books for Little Secrets! In case you don’t read any further (I suggest avoiding as much as you can!), the take-away here is, GO GET THIS BOOK! This is one of those rare books that actually lives up to its Girl on the Train or Gone Girl comparisons that sellers love to tout– though such high praise is usually aspirational, if not entirely inappropriate.
For a book populated with unlikable characters, Little Secrets is surprisingly enjoyable. I read a lot of books in this genre, and am consistently disappointed, but I have to hand it to Jennifer Hillier here, because this is definitely one of the better psychological thrillers to come out over the last year. I’d recommend going into it blindly, as I did, but if you need to know more, read on: It’s hard to describe what makes this book stand out from an over-saturated genre, since the kidnapped child scenario is so common, as are the characters (philandering husband, distraught wife, younger, Instagram-addicted mistress). I think, actually, what makes it great is that Hillier doesn’t care about her characters’ likability. The central protagonist, Marin, who is the ‘victim’ in that she has lost her son and now her husband, is not ‘innocent’– she is rash, jealous, and even homicidal. This is one of the rare instances where an author isn’t trying to shove any characters down your throat, or throwing in gratuitous ‘save the cat’ moments (i.e. obviously-plotted scenes which are meant to endear the reader/viewer to a character, even though he/she may be difficult). Hillier operates with a confidence so rarely possessed by authors and a trust so rarely given to readers, knowing that her plot is tight enough to keep us engaged and that we’re smart enough to stick with morally complex and/or despicable characters. I call this the Hannibal Lecter approach. While it’s difficult to achieve as an author, it’s so much more rewarding as a reader when you get to read and cheer for characters you love to hate or hate to love.
If you’ve read any of my other reviews either here or on Goodreads, you’ve probably noticed a common thread: I can’t help but compare every psychological thriller to Mary Kubica. And almost without fail, I find the book/author I’m holding up for scrutiny to be lacking in comparison. I have a deep love for her complex female characters and intricate plots. The Other Mrs. (Not to be confused with The Other Mrs. Miller, which is another novel in the same genre and of the same quality as this one) is Kubica’s latest effort, and it serves up all of the goodness we’ve come to expect from the author.
Female-centered psychological thriller? Check.
Unreliable narrator(s)? Check.
Twists and turns? Check.
Quick pacing? Check!
Several times, I found myself thinking ‘ugh, this is so predictable, it’s obviously the husband/the creepy son/the troubled teen girl/the jilted ex-wife’, lured into believing at various turns that I had outsmarted the author, but these are almost all red herrings. In the end, Kubica successfully pulls the rug out from under you, which is all the more shocking because she’s never deliberately hiding information as so many more amateur authors do. Instead, she trusts in her reader, knowing we’ll fill in the blanks (incorrectly), thus helping veil the truth.
All of that being said, this isn’t my favorite of her books because of the way all of the truths are veiled. There’s a mental illness plot point here that I found to be a bit of a cop out. Though it is well plotted, it ultimately left me feeling a bit jipped. It’s sort of like the cliche “it was all just a dream” ending, but with more eye rolls, because it has the added element of being a bit far-fetched, too.
In comparing this to her other novels, I’d say it’s firmly in the high-middle– below The Good Girl and Pretty Baby, but above the rest. This feels much more polished and intentional than some of her recent books, which seemed like they had been rushed.
Rating: 3.75/5 stars, rounded up to 4 for Goodreads.