The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas

Suffering from the trauma of a stillborn baby and the end of her relationship with her boyfriend, Sarah agrees to accompany her sister and brother-in-law to Sicily for a holiday. Here she meets Alexander and his six-year-old son, Jamie, who are having problems of their own: Alexander’s wife, Genevieve, has left him and disappeared without trace. When Alex offers Sarah a job as housekeeper at his home in England, she agrees. Despite her family’s concerns, Sarah thinks it’s the right decision: she’s attracted to Alex, adores his little boy, and is desperate to make a fresh start and move on with her life.

But after joining Alex and Jamie at Avalon, their home in the village of Burrington Stoke in Somerset, Sarah begins to wonder exactly what happened to Genevieve. The missing woman’s family are convinced Alex knows more about the disappearance than he’s admitting to, but Sarah knows that can’t be true…or can it?

The Secrets Between Us was my final choice for the Transworld Book Group. Louise Douglas is not an author I’ve ever read before, so I didn’t know what to expect from this book, but I was immediately drawn to it when I saw that it had been compared to Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, one of my favourite books. And there are definitely some similarities. Genevieve, like Rebecca, is described as beautiful, popular, talented and loved by everyone who knew her – and although she’s not there physically, she’s still a very strong presence and always at the heart of the story. The two books also share a gothic atmosphere and a sense of uneasiness and foreboding.

But this is also an excellent book in its own right. The author expertly keeps us guessing right to the end by adding some unexpected plot twists and ensuring that we can never be quite certain whether Alexander can be trusted or not. It’s also possible that Sarah, as the narrator, may not always be completely reliable. Some very strange and spooky things happen at Avalon and we are made to wonder whether they have supernatural causes or whether Sarah’s emotional state is making her see things that aren’t really there.

I did find it hard to believe that Sarah would agree to move in with a man she’d only met on a couple of brief occasions in Sicily, but at least this meant we were thrown into the action almost immediately, with only a short build-up. And Sarah is a narrator who is easy to like and to have sympathy for. I could really feel her fear and confusion as more and more facts about Genevieve were revealed, and her sense of growing isolation as the people of Burrington Stoke turned against her, believing that she and Alexander were trying to cover up the truth about Genevieve’s disappearance.

The Secrets Between Us is an excellent psychological thriller, with just the right amount of tension and suspense. Although Louise Douglas’ previous novels sound very different to this one, I really liked her writing and would be happy to try her other books at some point too.

I received a copy of this book from Transworld for review.

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

The Water Room is the second in a series of novels about two elderly detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, who work for the Peculiar Crimes Unit, a branch of the London Metropolitan Police specialising in unusual cases. Bryant and May have been working together since the 1940s and have formed a strong and effective partnership, combining Bryant’s eccentricity and lateral thinking with May’s common sense and more logical approach.

When Mrs Singh is found drowned in the seemingly dry basement of her home in Balaklava Street with her mouth full of river water, her brother, who is an old friend of Arthur Bryant’s, asks the Peculiar Crimes Unit for help. But no sooner have Bryant and May begun to investigate than another bizarre incident occurs in the same street. Meanwhile, the new owner of Mrs Singh’s house is being plagued by the sound of rushing water in the basement and damp patches appearing and disappearing on the walls. What is going on?

I read the first book in this series, Full Dark House, a couple of months ago and loved it, but I thought this one was even better. This is a series that I would particularly recommend to people who love London. I’m not familiar enough with London to fully appreciate everything in these novels, but Christopher Fowler’s love and knowledge of the city is obvious on every page. Full Dark House looked at the city’s theatrical world; in this book the focus is on the underground rivers that run under the streets of London. During the course of Bryant and May’s investigations we learn lots of little facts about these lost rivers and the mythology surrounding them. The historical information is woven into the plot throughout the book and I thought the balance between education and entertainment was just right.

This is not a very fast-paced book and does require some concentration, but the story moves along steadily and has a few surprising twists. The mystery plot was quite a good one, with plenty of clues and red herrings that seemed to implicate almost everybody in the street at one point or another. But the highlight of these books for me is the partnership of Bryant and May themselves and the dialogue between them.

As well as being part of a series, The Water Room is a complete mystery novel in itself and it’s not necessary to have read Full Dark House first. However, if you’re concerned about coming across spoilers it would be a good idea to start at the beginning of the series. After enjoying the first two books so much I’m sure I’ll be reading the others and am looking forward to meeting Mr Bryant and Mr May again in Seventy-Seven Clocks.

I received a copy of this book for review from Transworld as part of the Transworld Book Group.

I’m part of the Transworld Book Group!

It’s time for the latest reading challenge from Transworld! Like their previous challenges (which included the 2010 Summer Reading Challenge and the Great Transworld Crime Caper) this one is open to EU residents only. You can choose four books from a list of fifteen and as you review each book, Transworld will send you the next one.

Here’s the list:

1. The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark
2. Black Swan Rising by Lee Carroll
3. The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas
4. Teacher, Teacher! by Jack Sheffield
5. Death Sentence by Mikkel Birkegaard
6. Crippen by John Boyne
7. Caligula by Douglas Jackson
8. Twelve by Jasper Kent
9. The Obscure Logic of the Heart by Priya Basil
10. Nothing But Trouble by Rachel Gibson
11. The Colour of Death by Michael Cordy
12. Odin’s Mission by James Holland
13. Legacy by Danielle Steel
14. The Water Room by Christopher Fowler
15. The Bomber by Liza Marklund

If you live in the EU and you’d like to take part, all you need to do is leave a comment on Transworld’s blog, Between the Lines, and they will contact you to ask for your book selections and address.

So which books did I choose?

The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas

The Water Room by Christopher Fowler

The Obscure Logic of the Heart by Priya Basil

Who else is taking part in this? What do you think of my choices?