Title: The Secret she Kept
Author: J.S. Ellis
Published by: Black Cat Ink Press
Publication date: 23 Jun 2020
Genre: Mystery & Thriller
“Days before her murder, Anthony’s friend, Lottie, lent him her laptop. Curiosity getting the best of him, he clicks on a file and finds videos recorded by her in the year leading up to her death. Within those recordings, she exposes dark secrets someone will kill to keep hidden, and Lottie’s toxic relationship with Anthony’s long-time friend, Davian.”
I was informed about this book by NetGalley via email as a daily recommendation and was thrilled to be approved for reading and reviewing – I am fond of the genre and it’s always refreshing to be introduced to something new.
I’ve not come across a book like The Secret She Kept before and found the concept of the story and what was on offer of the writing style really rather enjoyable. The main character, Anthony, stumbles across the vital clues of his best-friends murder on the laptop that she lent him; in the form of Lottie (The best friend) having recorded the events that led to her death, but rather than hand the laptop over too the police and letting the professionals do their job, Anthony keeps hold of the evidence and starts his own investigation – this in itself feels a little contrived but the plot has to come from somewhere, right?
The story takes place in dual parts. What Anthony discovers and what Lottie has recorded. The two elements work well and lead into one another nicely. What Lottie reveals in her videos is always met with some opinion or another of Anthonys and usually followed up by him in his investigations. The basic plot device is that Lottie has fallen for a very attractive co-worker; Davian. For some reason or another that I can’t quite fathom. Davian isn’t written as a decent character, he is dull, insulting, arrogant and obnoxious. But Lottie falls for him deep regardless of him being offered to the reader so blandly and then the tale starts to unravel itself.
I found the modern-day setting for the novel to be easily believable and the Artwork and Photographic agency in which Lottie, Davian and Anthony are connected to easy to imagine being a real place of work. With Davian being a star-photographer and held up on a high pedestal by the companies owner for his work contributions. I also found elements of the characters lives to be intriguing and also believable. Lottie’s thoughts in the videos she has left behind about various characters are entertaining and I found these parts of The Secret She Kept a lot more enjoyable than the rest which I felt needed a bit more working on to make them shine, but that didn’t make me feel any more sympathetic towards her than other characters. In the end, I couldn’t really care less who was telling the truth and who was lying I just wanted to find out who ‘did it.’
I found a lot of The Secret She Kept to feel clipped. The dialogue felt very forced between Anthony and pretty much everyone else that he encounters and quite unrealistic. More often than not Anthony dives deep into questions about Lottie for his investigation before any scene-setting has been delivered and I felt as though a lot of the book was trying to rush to the conclusion without leaving much of a story to enjoy in its wake. The Secret She Kept feels like there is something deeper lacking between its pages and a lot of the potential in the plot is lost due to the head-long stampede to get to the conclusion. It is due to this lack of depth that all the characters, like Davian, felt incomplete and it was hard to really connect with any of them and at times they didn’t make sense. Anthony clearly had issues with Lottie’s choices, so why is he so determined to solve the mystery of her death? Lottie was appalled by Davian so why the attraction? I feel with a little more scratching at the surface and a bit more explanation of the characters and their deeper motives, The Secret She Kept would be a lot more enjoyable.
Sadly, my criticism of the book’s writing doesn’t end there – another feeling of being rushed came out in the rather abundant errors in writing; words being in the wrong order or sentences that don’t quite read correctly. I feel like The Secret She Kept needs a little more ‘spit and polish’ before it goes for its final print run. Another run through with a proofreader/editor would easily solve this and might be in the works as the copy I received was an Advance Reader Copy.
A little note on the ending, it is one that I didn’t quite see coming but it did feel a little flat and lacklustre. Like a climax that didn’t really happen. It left me feeling somewhat deflated and disappointed with the book as a whole, but The Secret She Kept is a short read and overs an evening or so of easy escapism. The language is simple to grasp and the pages turn quickly enough to make the story enjoyable even if the characters themselves do not.