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The Secret Mother by Shalini Boland is a standalone psychological thriller that keeps you up reading until you finish the last page.
When Tessa Markham arrives home, she finds a little boy in her kitchen asking her if she is his mom. Tessa, who has lost not one but two children in recent years, is standing dumbstruck in front of the boy, not knowing what to make of him and the whole eerie situation. As the questions are bombarding her mind one after another, there is something nagging at the back of Tessa’s mind. The little guy, Harry, reminds her of someone else. But of whom?
Tessa is in a rather precarious situation, as not long ago, she has been accused of abducting a small child. As the police arrive to take Harry from her apartment, there is a suspicion in the air that she’s done it again. She’s kidnapped yet another child just because she couldn’t think straight after having lost the first two. Or did she?
The story is a prime example of a well-written psychological contemporary thriller with all the relevant ingredients present. Suspicion, betrayal, guilt, accusations, things not always being what they seem, and a whole lot of pain, are all craftily inserted at the appropriate times in the book to make it a suspenseful story where you have to keep turning the pages to see what comes next.
Tessa is a tormented character who has gone through so much. She has suffered a lot, and only people who have lost children know just what a person is going through after all that. And Tessa has lost both her children. Her grief is seriously painful, and her separated husband doesn’t give her too much compassion either. He is ready to move on, while she is not. But how can she, when she feels something is very wrong with the whole Harry situation? And once she begins digging into the facts, the more she uncovers, the more difficult it is to let it go, even when everyone, including the police, warns her to stay away and just mind her own business.
What I especially liked about the characters is that I could trust noone. Everyone seemed to have something to hide. At some point, I even questioned Scott’s motives (Tessa’s husband). And, of course, I questioned Tessa intentions as well, just like the author intended. At some point, I even thought Harry had something to hide, which is something I’m not extremely proud of. So good is the author’s tale that I questioned everything.
In addition, the author managed to rile me up against several characters. Scott was an insufferable person, and Carly, Tess’s neighbor, ex-friend, and freelance journalist was a typical paparazzi that you loved to hate. The same type that loves to pester innocent people just to get their story out, regardless whether they hurt a person in the process or not. All these people were too real with all their flaws and often disgusting behaviors. When I think about it, I’m a bit sorry about Tessa, because she was not surrounded by anyone truly worth considering a friend. She desperately needed honest, good people around her, and she had none. No wonder she ended up doubting herself so much.
The writing style is perfect for what the book wants to convey, and the story is quite gripping. I’ve started reading it late in the afternoon, and finished it just a few hours later, with hardly any break in between. It is full of tension, and it reminds me of the early Nicci French novels, which I so miss these days.
The Secret Mother, at less than 250 pages, is relatively short; the perfect summer beach read for 2019, and as such, I highly recommend it to any lover of contemporary psychological thrillers that don’t bog you down in lots of extra, unnecessary details. Since this is a new author for me, I’ll check out the previous books by Shalini Boland as well. Considering that it was published in England by Bookouture, the same publishing house that brought us Angela Marsons, Caroline Mitchell, Mel Sherratt, and Robert Bryndza, I knew this would be a book worth reading. Also, I’m excited that it is for the first time published in the US as well, by Grand Central Publishing, in 2019.