Secret Smile

by Nicci French
ISBN: 0143014161

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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.

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