I liked Woman with a Secret. I’ve read all of the Zailer/Waterhouse detective series (this book is #9), but other than Little Face (still one of the most terrifying books I’ve ever read), I haven’t loved any of them, and the last couple were pretty terrible. Woman with a Secret felt like a huge improvement. Hannah knows how to write a book that you can’t put down, but she doesn’t always know how to write a mystery that is both realistic and hard to for the reader to solve. Too often I’ve finished one of her books, rolling my eyes at the outlandishness of the conclusion. Woman with a Secret made sense, which may sound like the bare minimum to ask in a book, but seems to be missing sometimes from the “twisty-turny” portion of the murder mystery genre.
With a Sophie Hannah book you can’t say too much about the plot without it sounding either incredibly convoluted, or giving something away. The main character is a woman named Nicki Clements, who of course has a dark secret (several, actually). The mystery revolves around the murder of a journalist, Damon Blundy, who in typical Hannah fashion is murdered in a complex manner bordering on ridiculous. Sophie Hannah’s murderers are cool-headed and always take their time setting up a tableau. There are an awful lot of calculated killings in Spilling, and very few done in the heat of passion.
The plot explores several extra-marital affairs and attempts to answer the question of what really constitutes cheating on your spouse. There are a lot of affairs in this book, but they all made sense to me and fit with what we knew about the characters. Woman with a Secret focuses less on Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse (the detectives) than some previous books in this series have. I was okay with this because I found the other characters and the mystery interesting. Other than a scene or two with Charlie’s sister Liv, and Liv’s boyfriend Gibbs, the standard Zailer/Waterhouse characters really only appear in service to the mystery. Surely I’m not the only person who finds Charlie and Simon’s relationship completely nonsensical? It’s been 9 books, and still no explanation for Simon’s bizarre behavior toward his wife, and her tolerance of it. It was nice not to have to think about it too much in this one. And I can’t tell you how refreshing it is that Proust, the “snowman,” only appears in once or twice, and therefore isn’t able to slow down the plot with his usual complaints and verbal abuse. For those who enjoy Sophie Hannah, Woman with a Secret is no Little Face, but it’s pretty good.