Book Review: Secret Smile by Nicci French

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This book was so engrossing that I started reading it late one evening and then couldn’t stop. I finished it in one sitting as I kept thinking, “Just one more chapter,” and then not being able to stand not knowing what was going to happen next. By the time I was finished, six hours and 310 pages had gone by and so had most of the night, as well as any opportunity for sleep.

Secret Smile is the story of Miranda. She’s been dating Brendan for just over a week when she comes home from work to find him on her lounge reading one of her old diaries. He’s let himself in with the key underneath the flowerpot. “That’s all right, isn’t it?” he asks. She throws him out and breaks off the relationship. And she’s not really sorry to see him go.

Two weeks later, her sister Kerry calls to tell her that she has something exciting to share: a new boyfriend. And his name is Brendan. (Unfortunately for Kerry, she doesn’t realise how literal that sharing will be.) Almost immediately, Miranda is suspicious. And those suspicions are confirmed when the story of how the happy new couple met is told. Brendan approached Kerry telling her he recognised her from a photograph in Miranda’s flat. Except there are no photographs of Kerry in Miranda’s flat.

Brendan has also already ingratiated himself amongst the rest of Miranda’s family and told everyone that he broke up with Miranda and that she didn’t take it well. So every time Miranda tries to point out the fact that he’s a liar and a psychopath, they all think she’s just jealous. A few weeks after when Brendan and Kerry announce their whirlwind engagement, he finds Miranda and confesses to her that the whole time he and her sister were making the announcement, all he was thinking about was her mouth and how he had once ejaculated in it. Yuck!

And so begins Miranda’s new hellish life. No matter who she tells about Brendan and his dangerous infatuation, they just won’t believe her. Not her family, not her friends, not her new boyfriend, not her therapist, not even a police detective she asks to investigate Brendan.

The character of Brendan is insanely creepy and everyone will have known someone like him, someone who is just not quite right even though you can’t quite put your finger on why. The character of Miranda stays quiet on occasions when she should speak up and I think we all know people like that, too. Sometimes we are that person. So even though I kept thinking, “Why doesn’t she just say something?”, Nicci French wrote it in a way that made me think such a scenario was not just entirely possible but frequently reality. Towards the end, I even started wondering if perhaps Miranda was veering towards being a little bit psychopathic herself in her treatment of Brendan. I almost became one of those people who wouldn’t believe her, even though I was witnessing everything firsthand.

The dialogue was a little bland at times and I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending – because even though Miranda outsmarts Brendan it wasn’t quite in a smart enough way for me to feel she had won the war – but overall this is a terrific and terrifying read. And it’s certainly enough to make me want to read more of Nicci French’s books.

4 stars

*First published on Goodreads 15 May 2016

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