It’s always a particular pleasure to review a book on publication day – and today I’m delighted to be reviewing Keeper of Secrets by Lynda Stacey, published today (22nd October) by Ruby Fiction, available for kindle and as an audiobook, and on all other major e-book platforms. My reading e-copy was gifted to enable an early review.
You’ll find reviews of all Lynda’s other books here on Being Anne – House of Secrets, Tell Me No Secrets, House of Christmas Secrets and The Fake Date (all links are to my reviews). Her books have always been “must reads” for me, treading that really difficult path between nail-biting suspense and convincing romantic entanglement – and I was particularly delighted to include The Fake Date in my books of the year list last year. I had the privilege of sharing some of Lynda’s excitement about her latest book, and the largely hidden history that inspired it – so I was really rather looking forward to this one…
Should some secrets stay buried?
For as long as Cassie Hunt can remember her Aunt Aggie has spoken about the forgotten world that exists just below their feet, in the tunnels and catacombs of the Sand House. The story is what inspired Cassie to become an archaeologist.
But Aggie has a secret that she’s buried as deep as the tunnels and when excavation work begins on the site, Cassie is the only one who can help her keep it. With the assistance of her old university friend, Noah Flanagan, she puts into action a plan to honour Aggie’s wishes.
It seems the deeper Noah and Cassie dig, the more shocking the secrets uncovered – and danger is never far away, both above and below the ground.
I’m always drawn into a book by a well-written prologue – and this book most certainly has one, as you feel the fear of a shocking and life-changing childhood incident filled with menace, with family secrets uncovered and some very strong images that are revisited later in the book.
The book itself opens in Herculaneum, where Cassie is an archaeologist on a prestigious dig, engaged in uncovering some particularly poignant skeletal remains – sharing a flat with a friend, with a tomato plant and a visiting cat. But, as with all the author’s books, you know the first twist is never far away – a possible threat that becomes very real indeed, and an unexpected telephone call that takes her home to Doncaster. Aunt Aggie, who raised Cassie and her sister Lisa in the absence of their parents is seriously ill – and she has a long-held secret that needs Cassie’s intervention before it can reach resolution. Near the family home, there’s a dig in progress – the excavation of the tunnels of the Sand House, uncovering its magnificent statues, and Cassie needs to get involved while there’s still time.
This book is very strong in its portrayal of family relationships – both the close relationship between Cassie and her sister, and the great sadness of watching her beloved aunt losing her grip on life, treasuring every rare smile. And family ties drive the story too – the hidden personal stories of the past, uncovered alongside the treasures in the nearby tunnels.
There’s a real and convincing love story – one of those friends becoming lovers stories that I invariably enjoy, and I particularly liked the way it was developed. But there’s a wider cast too, and quite a number of individuals who could be a source of threat and danger – and the tension mounts inexorably as Cassie’s moment of discovery approaches, with an atmosphere of creeping menace and danger.
The story’s climax is particularly well handled – some really clever touches (no, I can’t tell you more – I’d ruin the book!) and plenty of twists and turns to throw you off the scent. The author certainly knows how to crank up the anticipation, and those closing scenes really do get the pages turning considerably more quickly.
The pacing of the story is just right, and the lighter moments in the developing relationship do balance those more disturbing moments. And if you’ve enjoyed the author’s earlier books, there’s plenty here that you’ll enjoy every bit as much – a compelling read that might just give you a few sleepless nights, a story full of excitement and tension, a well-developed romance, together with a large slice of intriguing local history.
If you’re as fascinated by the Sand House itself as I was, you’ll find more information in the author’s note at the book’s end, together with pictures and links. Do take a look at the website – although you’ll already be familiar with the statues and some of their history from reading the book, it certainly added an extra element to my enjoyment.
About the author
Lynda grew up in the mining village of Bentley, Doncaster, in South Yorkshire.
Her own chaotic life story, along with varied career choices, helps Lynda to create stories of psychological/romantic suspense, with challenging and unpredictable plots, along with (as in all romances) very happy endings.
Lynda joined the Romantic Novelist Association in 2014 under the umbrella of the New Writers Scheme and in 2015, her debut novel House of Secrets won the Choc Lit Search for a Star competition.
She lives in a small rural hamlet near Doncaster, with her husband, Haydn, to whom she’s been happily married for over 20 years.