Review – Secret Of The Song by Cathie Hartigan

By | November 10, 2015

When a song by the mad composer, Carlo Gesualdo, is discovered in Exeter Museum, trouble descends on the group asked to sing it. Lisa is full of enthusiasm at first, but she soon becomes convinced the song is cursed. What is the mystery behind the discordant harmonies? Will she solve the song’s secret before her relationship with Jon breaks for good and harm befalls them all? 

In Renaissance Naples, young Silvia Albana is seamstress and close confidant of Don Gesualdo’s wife. When Donna Maria begins an affair, Silvia knows that death is the only outcome. But who exactly will die? And where is Silvia’s own lover? Why is he not there to help her?

Those of you who know me well – just read that description. You know I’m going to love it, don’t I? You bet I am! Modern and historical thread, Renaissance Naples, two love stories…Cathie, you could have written it just for me. But what I really wasn’t expecting – and given that Cathie Hartigan is part of the CreativeWritingMatters team that might have been rather daft of me – was that it would be so exceptionally well written. The whole book achieves that difficult balance – across both threads – of being an engaging read, shocking, funny and very emotionally affecting, and such a fantastic story. Secret Of The Song by Cathie Hartigan was published on 24th September, and is available for kindle and in paperback – and I just loved it. 

When I said “a fantastic story”, there are – of course – two. In the modern thread, Lisa really was my new best friend from the first few pages. With all her faults, I loved her – a quite wonderful character constantly acting on impulses, taking irrational stances, opening her mouth without thinking about the consequences. The whole story around the uncovering of the Gesualdo manuscript, the preparations of the group to perform it, the difficulties they encounter, and the lovely relationship between Lisa and Jon absolutely entranced me. I loved the introduction of the Italian siren from La Scala and the ripples she causes. And I really don’t like children much (did I just say that out loud?) but Lisa’s daughter Mollie could come and live with me any time – a very real child amid a lot of other quite perfectly drawn characters (wait till you meet Lisa’s mother…) who leap, fully formed, from every page. There’s even a lovely touch of the supernatural involving the manuscript that’s quite perfectly judged, and perversely gives rise to some of the funniest – and most touching – scenes in the book. 

And that’s just one of the threads. The other takes us to Renaissance Italy to meet Silvia, who becomes seamstress (and so much more) to Donna Maria, the wife of the composer Don Gesualdo. Dare I say she’s my second best friend? This is really quite a dark story of murder and mayhem and dark doings, but Silvia herself so often has you smiling through it. 

The author’s research shines brightly throughout. You can feel the depth of it, but the book wears it lightly – never too much detail, just enough to bring the period vividly to life.
Reading a dual time story, I find I often feel the wrench between the two threads. This book is so cleverly written, beautifully structured so that you slip quite painlessly from modern to Renaissance, with neither story stronger than the other. It’s not very often that happens – but in this book it’s quite perfectly done. And Cathie’s writing style is eminently readable – I really don’t know how she does it, but Silvia’s voice also feels historically authentic, and quite different from the voice of Lisa.  

And did I mention how much I enjoyed the book, and what fun it was? Expect great things from Cathie Hartigan – this lovely book may have slipped out without the loud fanfare it deserves, but I do hope others will try it. It’s an absolute triumph, in much the same way as you hope will be both the Gesualdo recital and Lisa and Silvia’s futures: but to find out whether they are, you’re going to have to read the book. Just look at all those five star reviews. You’ll so love it… I promise.

My thanks to author Cathie Hartigan for sending me an e-copy of Secret Of The Song for review.

Cathie Hartigan lives in the beautiful, historic city of Exeter. 

Although her professional training was in music, a decade ago she swapped one keyboard for another in order to take her life-long love of writing more seriously. Since then, she has won several prizes for her short stories and was a finalist in the annual Woman and Home short story competition three times.

Cathie lectured in creative writing for nine years at Exeter College before leaving to found, which offers a range of writing services and administers four international literary competitions a year, including The Exeter Novel Prize and The Trisha Ashley Award. 

When not writing, Cathie sings in a small vocal ensemble. The beautiful Devon coastline also provides plenty of distraction but on a rainy day if there’s an opera or theatre screening at the cinema, she’ll be there.

Follow Cathie on Twitter, on Facebook, or through her excellent blog.

8 thoughts on “Review – Secret Of The Song by Cathie Hartigan

  1. Jane Lovering

    Sounds like a fascinating story I love dual time lines, and as I know nothing about music I'm sure I'll learn a lot from this book!

  2. Anne Williams

    Thanks for the comments Jane, Lainy and Suze – isn't it lovely when you find a book that ticks all your boxes? Really recommend this one x

Comments are closed.