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Book Review - "Woman with a Secret" by Sophie Hannah

The following book review is a special for BlackFive readers provided by Elise Cooper.  You can read all of our book reviews and author interviews by clicking on the Books category link on the right side bar.

9780062388261_p0_v2_s192x300Woman With A Secret, Sophie Hannah’s latest book, delves into the online world.  Parts of the story are told through email correspondence, gossip columnist’s entries, the main character’s narration, and a police investigation.  The deception, lies and secrets, are what makes up a great deal of this novel.

The best description of the story comes from country singer Brad Paisley’s lyrics to the song Online, “I'm a sci-fi fanatic.  Mild asthmatic.  Never been to 2nd base.  But there's a whole another me.  That you need to see.  Go check out Myspace… I'm so much cooler online.” The main character Nicki Clements through her on-line life portrays herself as someone different than she actually is.  She leads a double life, on the surface respectable, while on-line just the opposite with her unsavory Internet connections.

The plot has Nicki, a stay at home mom, repeatedly engaging in reckless behavior.  Although she lives a comfortable existence, she is not satisfied with it.  Nicki is driven to live on the edge, exchanging clandestine and lustful emails with men who share her fondness for the thrill of the forbidden.  One of those she corresponded with is the well-known journalist Damon Blundy, found murdered in a bizarre manner.  This is when Hannah’s main characters, detectives Simon Waterhouse, Charlotte (Charlie) Zailer, and the rest of the team enter the story.  Through their investigation they suspect Nicki of being the killer.  The rest of the story has the police trying to find evidence that will lead them to the murderer.

Nicki is nothing like the protagonist of Hannah’s last novel.  The author noted to, “Gabby, was an admirable character while Nicki is a flawed character who has desperate, ridiculous behavior with a life based on lies.  Her parents always made her feel bad, naughty, and excessively punitive. She is not strong willed like Gabby.  But I am hoping that a flawed character can be sympathetic.” 

Unfortunately, while readers rooted for Gabby they will have a hard time doing so with Nicki.  She is high-strung, self-centered, and seems incapable of telling the truth for twenty-four hours at a stretch. Her attitude can best be summed up from a quote in the book, “Being bad and getting away with it; there’s no feeling like it.”

Woman With A Secret has compelling themes of Internet bullying, hypocritical people, and a dysfunctional relationship. As with all her books, Hannah allows readers to get into the thoughts of the protagonist and the police, by having each alternately narrate the chapters. 

The author also gave a heads up about her next books.  In May a stand-alone will be released about a woman who moves her family from London to Devon.  She is faced with someone wanting to kill her family and persecuting them with menacing experiences. In the summer The Narrow Bed, a Simon and Charlie novel, will be released.  Its plot has a serial killer murdering best friends.  The protagonist is a comedian a la Joan Rivers who is prickly, contrary, and says deliberately annoying comments.  In both books the main character is a heroine that has a strong willed personality and will aggressively pursue justice.