||A Review of: Secret Smile
by Desmond McNally
Having thoroughly enjoyed this Nicci French's last novel, Land of
the Living, I expected more of the same high quality from Secret
Smile. The beginning of the narrative quickly establishes an
undercurrent of frenetic confusion tinged with dread, and yet the
opening chapters also seem to lack some of the tight organization
one is used to from French. The opening of Land of the Living
explodes like a greyhound at the start of a race. Secret Smile, on
the other hand, appears to meander initially, with several vignettes
seemingly lacking much purpose and direction. This state of affairs
is short lived, however; readers will find that the tempo quickens
considerably, and an atmosphere la Hitchcock is evoked with the
introduction of Brendan Block. One must admire how French has drawn
this particular character. His every word and action carries with
it a palpable threat. He is an anti-hero of such overwhelming
malevolence that the reader is impatient to witness his demise.
Our heroine, Miranda Cotton, thankful that her brief affair with
the unsavoury Brendan is over and a thing of the past, is horrified
when her sister, Kerry, announces that he is not only her new love,
but that they intend to marry. Thus Miranda's nightmare truly begins
and the sinister, disturbing Brendan, behind a mask of understanding
and compassion, haunts Miranda night and day. Everything that the
rejected Brendan does, affects Miranda in the most disturbing way.
A number of events transpire that are frightening and inexplicable
to all except Miranda, whose protestations about Brendan's venality
and guilt are disregarded by her family, friends and even the police.
Abbie Devereaux, the heroine in Land of the Living had to deal with
similar problems. Miranda is in desperate need of a confidante who
will provide her with much needed strength and assistance. However,
there the similarity between the two protagonists ends, as Miranda
is a more flawed and fragile human being than Abbie, and deserves
our pity more than our admiration.
French has written an unexpected, intriguing and satisfying finale
to this novel, and this despite an exchange towards the end, between
Miranda and her new beau Don, that reads more like something out
of a Catherine Cookson or Barbara Cartland romance. This quibble
notwithstanding, French's offering is praiseworthy for its gripping
knife edge drama. It will provide her readers with an adventure
that is exciting because it seems plausible.