What some deprecatingly call “chick-lit” plus a murder mystery all rolled into one: how can you go wrong? I found this book by Australian author Moriarty mostly delicious, written with a woman’s often profound, often funny insight into relationships—spousal, parental, neighborly and otherwise–and with a brilliant sense of timing.
The Husband’s Secret is the story of three families–or three women–whose separate lives eventually intersect painfully, then tragically, in a well-orchestrated plot that is rife with mystery, intrigue, betrayal, lust, incest, and murder – and a large dollop of humor. Her characters are all too human, with all the flaws and foibles, strengths and sensibilities, night terrors and daylight insecurities that all of us suffer at one point or another in our lives. In fact, we can all too easily place ourselves in any one of their places, and see how easily our well-planned lives can falter, and even crumble apart like theirs.
Cecilia is the supreme organizer of her circle of family and friends, the perfect wife and mother to her three pretty daughters, PTA president, and a model Tupperware party-giver. When the story opens, she is lamenting her proper but oh-so-unremarkable life and wishing for a bit of drama. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for! Rachel is the elderly manager of St. Angela’s elementary school in Sydney, where Cecilia’s children go to school. She is a walking tragedy to those around her, due to the unsolved murder of her daughter Janie 25 years earlier, and the more recent death of her husband. Unrelieved anguish is the air she breathes, and her sole reason for being is her 2-year-old grandson, whose parents are about to whisk him off to America and out of Rachel’s life.
Finally, there is Tess, whose husband and best friend/cousin have informed Tess that they are in love with each other. A stunned Tess takes her 6 year old son and flies to Sydney to live with her mom and where she plans to enroll her boy at St. Angela’s. Enter hunky 40-something Connor, beloved P.E. teacher at St. Angela’s and Tess’ former boyfriend. In a rage at her husband, Tess sees Connor as a prime candidate for a sexual fling, while Rachel decides that Connor is a prime candidate for her daughter’s murderer. Into this mix comes a dusty old letter from her husband that Cecilia innocently stumbles upon in her attic, containing a secret that rips off the patina of complacency in her life.
The fact that the letter doesn’t appear until nearly half-way through the story is cleverly designed to build up anticipation, and it’s an effective device. I also appreciated the way Moriarty gives us private glimpses into a wide variety of relationships, while using self-reflection on the part of several of her characters to show how easily we can derail ourselves with our own insecurities. Finally, I found especially clever the epilogue that Moriarty offers us, which supplies all the “what ifs” that may have run through our heads throughout her story, and which provokes the all-important question: how might our own lives have taken a different path, if only….