Morton’s finesse with family secrets increases with each novel.

THE SECRET KEEPER

A daughter refuses to let her mother take a grim secret to the grave.

In 1961, Laurel, a teenager sulking in a treehouse, sees her mother kill a man with a knife intended for her infant brother’s birthday cake. During the ensuing investigation, the police question Laurel, who leaves out a crucial detail. Just before her mother stabbed him, the man had said, “Hello, Dorothy. It’s been a long time.” Dorothy is cleared—the man is presumed to be a wanted pervert whom she killed in self-defense, and the Nicholson family life goes on as before, with Dorothy, husband Stephen and their five children enjoying life in their bucolic farmhouse. An early flashback reveals that Dorothy may have had a shady past, which induced her to flee London in 1941, at the urging of her friend Vivien, who was subsequently killed in the Blitz. In 2011, Dorothy is close to death. Laurel, now a famous actress in her 60s, embarks on a quest to learn the truth about the homicide. First, she learns that her mother’s victim, Henry Jenkins, had once been a prominent writer who fell from grace. Flashbacks from Dorothy’s POV and Laurel’s research reveal that during the war, Dorothy, whose family was killed by German bombs, attempts to befriend her fellow war-work volunteer, the somewhat aloof Vivien, an heiress who was also orphaned when a car crash claimed her parents and siblings in Australia. But Vivien is married to the controlling, jealousy-prone Jenkins, an author who’s also involved in intelligence work for the government. When Vivien inexplicably insults her, Dorothy assumes that slander from Vivien also caused Lady Gwendolyn, Dorothy’s late employer, to deny her a hoped-for inheritance. Together with her fiance, the talented and sensitive photographer Jimmy, Dorothy plots revenge in the form of blackmail, threatening to give Jenkins evidence of Vivien’s infidelity. Despite some improbable developments, the suspense mounts throughout, culminating in a shocking twist.

Morton’s finesse with family secrets increases with each novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-5280-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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