Can you keep a Secret?

Written by Karen Perry

Review written by Gwen Moffat

Gwen Moffat lives in Cumbria. Her novels are set in remote communities ranging from the Hebrides to the American West. The crimes fit their environment, swelling that dreadful record of sin in the smiling countryside cited by Sherlock Holmes. The style echoes this: rustic charm masking horror.

Can you keep a Secret?
RRP: £7.99
Released: 24 Aug 2017

This one is about rejection and retaliation; it is interwoven with photography, with light and shade as they are involved in art, with forensics, and with pornography. The ambiance is one of gracious living in the Irish countryside of twenty years ago and disintegrates to genteel squalor in the present time. Chapters alternate, the earlier days in the present tense, current time in the past. It works, and remarkably well.

 Lindsey Morgan is a forensic photographer with the Garda, stationed in Dublin. Driving home from a run-of-the-mill assignment she feels obliged to turn aside and revisit the mansion where she once spent long holidays with her school friend, Rachel Bagenal, the daughter of the house.  Brought up in a pub Lindsey had found life with the cultured Bagenals fantastic, delightful, and fraught with pitfalls. A bright girl, in her own eyes plain and dull, she had observed the family with the eye of an artist, vaguely aware of undercurrents but, an unworldly innocent beside her more sophisticated friend, what she didn’t understand she accepted as part of an unfamiliar lifestyle.

Lindsey’s own father was a dutiful parent but lacking in any understanding of adolescence, small wonder then that she had been drawn to Rachel’s father, Peter Bagenal, who was lavish in his affections. Moreover, sensing her interest in form and light, he had fostered it, guiding her towards photography, even giving her his cherished Leica. It would have taken a woman considerably older than Lindsey to deduce that such generosity might have quite serious repercussions, particularly in this household.  Mrs Bagenal was beautiful but neurotic, alternately bemused or volatile: unpredictable. Conversely Rachel was intense and focussed, adoring her father, regarding Lindsey as  a loyal slave, a trusted repository of secrets.  But Rachel, for all her sophistication, was also an innocent, had not yet learned that trust can work both ways and that even a suspicion of rejection is hell for the recipient.

Family life with the Bagenals, particularly in the holidays, was complicated by the nature of the young guests. There was the plump plain cousin, Hilary, astute and probably even more watchful than Lindsey, certainly wiser, while, balancing the sexes, Patrick, the son of the house, invited his friends, Marcus and Niall, the studious handsome one and the rugby stalwart respectively. The boys were variously considered, dismissed or casually accepted by the girls except at drunken parties when people experimented. There were bad hangovers and consequent soul-searching. For the most part Peter and his wife remained in the background, their  relationship with the younger generation ranging from casual to deep and even obsessive interest. A dark cloud was growing of which Lindsey at least was unaware. There was tension certainly, but not menace until the tension broke with the shock of Peter’s death. The household fell apart. Someone, or some people  may have known how he died  but the reader is  in the dark, guessing – and even one obvious guess would leave much more to be revealed.

Over the next two decades the six boys and girls lead separate lives. Only the Bagenal siblings keep in touch.  Rachel marries and settles in London, Patrick remains in the old house which moulders about him because there’s no money to maintain it. Then Lindsey comes on the scene again and unexpectedly falls in love with him.  Inspired by this turn of events Patrick puts the estate up for sale. He organises a grand party inviting all the old friends to celebrate his decision and in a sense to confirm his bond with Lindsey. The highlight of the event is to be a splendid feast preceded by a crow-shoot.

The shoot heralds the beginning of the end. Unlike Peter Bagenal’s death twenty years ago which spawned mysteries, a second death results in revelations. Secret after secret is exposed right back to the first: producing the explanation for the peculiar urge that forced Lindsey to return to a house which of all places she should have avoided. A crescendo is most craftily constructed and builds to a tsunami of violence with one last devastating twist.

Very well done indeed.

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