Review: The Secret Keeper

Engaging, fast read, Kept me on my toes!
Thank you Lisa for inviting me to read The Secret Keeper for TLC Book Tours. In addition to reading and reviewing the book today, you will find an interview with Paul Harris below.

I haven’t read a suspense novel in quite some time altough I’m not sure I would put this book in the suspense category but there’s murder, love, education of a place I know little about and a solid storyline. A fast read that you will enjoy to the last page.

This is the story of a journalist who receives a letter from a woman in his past asking for urgent help. We quickly learn that Maria has been murdered and the letter Danny holds in his hand makes him want to find out what happened. Moving between the past and current day this story is well written and the characters are well defined. You will learn about the political struggles of Sierra Leone and the hope for a peaceful existence.

Paul Harris has first hand experience with Sierra Leona and documenting fright, war and conflict around the world. He has woven in the horror of history with a love story and a man trying to find his path in life with The Secret Keeper.

A conversation with Paul Harris:

Tell us a little about yourself: I was born and raised in England but I am half-American through my mother, who is from Iowa. She and my dad met in Northern Ireland where they were both students and decided to stay in the UK. Ever since I gave up wanting to be an astronaut or professional soccer player (unlikely dreams to say the least) I wanted to be a journalist. I set up a newspaper at my school when I was just 10 and then plunged into student journalism at college. I always wanted to be a foreign correspondent and I guess I was somewhat seduced by the glamorous image it can have, especially when reporting from conflict zones. I was lucky in that I have been able to fulfill that dream in a variety of places across the world from Sierra Leone to Iraq to Pakistan. But, now that I am older, I am much luckier to have come through that unscathed and to have (pretty much) lost the desire to do it anymore. I now have a much more complex view of journalism and conflict reporting in particular. I hope some of that comes out in the Secret Keeper. Now I am the US Correspondent of The Observer, a British weekly newspaper. I cover US politics and culture and get to travel across the country from my base in New York. It is amazing fun and - so far - have not had to bribe and bluff my way through a single armed roadblock or deal with a warlord.

Do you write daily? I have tended to write in bursts, rather than daily. I'll take a vacation and lock myself away somewhere with just my laptop for company and really plunge into it. Then I'll come up for air and go back to my day job. I would love to be able to write daily though and fit it in around the rest of my work. It's a skill and discipline that would be great to learn.

What was it like getting your first novel published? I found it a surreal experience. As a journalist I have been used to seeing my name in print and having my reporting read by people around the world. But that is all factual journalism based on events or people's opinions. It is a completely different feeling when it is fiction. I know it probably sounds odd, but it is a very strange experience to come up with a novel - which is literally just made-up thoughts from your own mind - and then see it on sale in bookstores or being read by friends and strangers alike. You have to pinch yourself to make sure that is really happening.

What do you think of the electronic book (kindles and such)? A few weeks ago I was riding the subway in Manhattan and saw someone reading on their Kindle rather than a physical book or newspaper. I suspect that was a sign of things to come. Technology is going to change the way we read and I suspect we will have no choice but to embrace it. It will probably happen slower than most people think. I don't think good old paper books are going away any time soon. But it is clear new ways of reading are coming. It is quite scary but I firmly believe that it is merely a shift in the way people read. People still want to read as much as they ever have done.

What is one tip that you can share with aspiring writers? Be patient. Stick at it. Don't give up the day job. I know that's probably very dull advice, but publishing is a crazy, unpredictable industry. You need the patience to actually write something, you need to stick at it to overcome the unpredictable tastes and opinions of agents/publishers/editors and you need the day job as a buffer against an unreliable industry.

What are you reading now? I actually just finished Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, which I enjoyed but did not love. And before that I read a collection of Annie Proulx stories. She was a revelation to me. She is an amazing writer though her work can be brutal.

Lastly, share one or two of your all time favorite novels read, excluding classics: Possibly my favourite non-classic book is a sprawling novel called The Therapy of Avram Blok by Simon Louvish. It is impossible to describe, full of eccentric characters, obscure references and outlandish plot details. But it is so full of life and laughter that - despite being a novel - it is a book you can just dip into randomly and read a few pages and really enjoy them. I bought a copy in the mid-80s when I was about 15 years old. I had no idea what it was but it had a crazy cover of a pig smoking a cigarette and wearing a floral tropical shirt. I still have that book though it is incredibly dog-eared. Just writing these words makes me want to go and pick it up again.

Just for fun:

Favorite Season: Spring.

Morning or night: Night.

Favorite ice cream flavor: Mint choc chip (a legacy of my American grandmother)

If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would you go: Right now, I think I would go to Eastern Europe. It's been a long time since I have done any travelling in Europe as I have lived in the US and Africa for most of my professional career. So I would love a trip through some of those old cities like Prague or Budapest or Krakow. And then I'd explore the mountains and forests of Transylvania in Romania. I went there very briefly in 2000 to visit a friend. It is a magical place. Just like you would imagine from fairy tales.
BWAV rating of this book: 3.5 stars
Type: Fiction, 318 pages, Hardcover

Four years ago, British journalist Danny Kellerman was given the opportunity of a lifetime: covering the political crisis in Sierra Leone as a war correspondent. While in Freetown he begins a passionate love affair with a beautiful American woman named Maria Tirado, who helps run an orphanage for ex-child soldiers. But Danny can't shake the feeling that Maria is hiding something from him, and as the crisis escalates, Danny has no choice but to leave; he boards a helicopter out of Freetown and never turns back....Until four years later, when, with a new relationship and a new life in London, Danny receives a mysterious, urgent letter from Maria. She's in trouble and needs Danny's help. But the letter is dated three weeks earlier, and it's already too late. Danny learns that Maria was murdered in a roadside robbery.Haunted and heartbroken, Danny leaves London and returns to Freetown. Although there is now peace in Sierra Leone, corruption is rampant and every promising lead is a dead end. But with the help of old friends and contacts, Danny uncovers a string of secrets that sheds a shocking light on the woman he thought he knew—and reveals a hidden truth that could destroy those in power. Trapped in the heart of a dangerous nation where he can trust no one, Danny is forced to choose between his journalistic integrity and the devastating consequences of speaking the truth.

"A fast-paced, stylish and gripping thriller laced with international intrigue. Harris plunges headfirst into the frightening reality of Africa in the throes of a blood-soaked civil war."-- Nicholas Shaxson, author of Poisoned Wells