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The Secrets of Strangers: A BBC Radio 2 Book Club Pick Paperback – 7 May 2020
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- Publisher : Atlantic Books; Main edition (7 May 2020)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 352 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1911630415
- ISBN-13 : 978-1911630418
- Dimensions : 12.9 x 2.1 x 19.8 cm
- Customer Reviews:
A gunman takes eight customers hostage at a London cafe and, as the situation develops, we hear the characters' stories, including those of the gunman and police negotiator, and how their lives are all connected. It's the well-written characters in this fast-paced story that keep you turning the pages. -- Joanne Finney ― Good Housekeeping
A compelling and fresh premise leads to a tense, humane, and touching novel ― Claire McGowan
The Secrets of Strangers binds you to its heart-wrenching story, until the tension is almost too much but you have to read on. Masterful, heartbreaking and compelling, every page is touched with darkness and hope in a moving hymn to humanity which had me in tears. Beautifully written, ingeniously crafted, if you're looking for a book that's groundbreakingly different, read this. Five stars, without a shadow of a doubt. ― Erin Kinsley
Norman skilfully plays with our perceptions and sympathies in this tautly plotted, gripping and emotional read. -- Clare Mackintosh
Charity Norman beautifully captures the fear, and the surprising solace, to be found in a situation that has gone way beyond a person's control. In this elegantly told tale of the power of humanity to save and destroy, Charity's writing is full of compassion and compulsion. -- Caroline Bond, bestselling author of THE SECOND CHILD
I've read a few books by Charity Norman and enjoyed them but I think this one is the best. . . . an extremely powerful book that is hard to put down and one I highly recommend. ― GoodReads
riveting, moving and unputdownable, just like the cover said ― GoodReads
Charity Norman aces the hostage drama in The Secret of Strangers
The narrative is as tense and well-written as any Jodi Picoult drama, the characters are engaging and sometimes bring you to tears, even the dogs caught up in the crisis can draw out a sympathetic reader sniffle.
Norman has created a terrific suspense novel that ultimately shows how people might behave under extreme pressure and reminds us that dealing with issues as they happen can save a lot of angst if they're left to fester.
While this certainly works as a siege thriller - much of the power comes from the slow reveal of the reasons behind the Ritalin-popping gunman's actions . . . in a genre which often celebrates style over substance this is a compelling and moving novel which should bring Norman to a whole new world of readers ― New Zealand Herald Published On: 2020-03-09
The narrative is as tense and well-written as any Jodi Picoult drama... a terrific suspense novel ― Sunday Star-Times (New Zealand)
The beauty of The Secrets of Strangers is in its intricate, slowly-built story encapsulated within the fast-paced situation. Charity Norman manages to give moments of tragedy time to breathe while reminding us of the precarious position the characters are still in. This story is driven by its characters and how they can influence one another, highlighting Norman's mastery of creating strong, believable personas and her finesse for nuance.
The Secrets of Strangers thrives on the unmasking of histories, motivations and character connections, so I won't reveal any twists, but it would be remiss of me not to mention the core story of gaslighting, manipulation and control. It takes a while to understand the trauma experienced by one particular character, but once their pain is fully realised it is hard not to be overwhelmed with sympathy and grief.
This book was hard to put down and even harder to stop thinking about. It is truly a devastating story wrapped in heartbreak with a beautiful ending to soothe the anguish. This is one I must recommend.
a tense thriller that takes a hostage drama set-up ... then layers on character depth and emotional impact. ― The Listener
About the Author
Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years' travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand.
THE SECRETS OF STRANGERS is her sixth novel.
Find Charity on Facebook at facebook.com/charitynormanauthor and on Twitter as @charitynorman1.
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Top reviews from Australia
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This one had me gripped and enthralled from the beginning.
So much humanity, love, understanding and so many engaging characters involved in the drama.
Keep writing dear Charity!
Top reviews from other countries
The story gets off to a strong start and shows the three character who become hostages going about their very different lives. Fifty-something ex-teacher and homeless, Neil, is waking up in the grounds of a local church with his dog, Buddy; grandmother and nurse, Mutesi, from Rwanda is taking her six-year-old grandson to school and criminal barrister, Abigail Garcia, is on her way to defend a client accused of harming her child. All three are heading to the busy Tuckbox cafe in Balham and are amongst the witnesses to an incident that sees mid-twenties Sam Ballard fire a shotgun with irrevocable consequences. Frazzled working mother and police negotiator, DI Eliza McClean, is drafted in with a mission to establish a rapport with the gunman and get everybody out alive. What follows is seen from multiple perspectives - Sam, Eliza, Mutesi, Abi and Neil - and we not only learn more about the characters but also get their take on the unfolding situation. Sam’s perspective includes flashbacks to the earlier years in his life to illustrate his story and Eliza’s provides a glimpse into the behind the scenes police handling of such an operation.
Disappointingly the motivation for the gunman’s actions is made apparent at just twenty percent of the way through the novel and whilst what follows is a slow reveal of the detailed reasons behind his actions, I did feel that much of the tension was lost. From then on the novel felt like a drawn-out look at how Sam had been failed by society and the legal system. It became glaringly obvious at this point that the three hostages and police negotiator, DI Eliza McClean, were intended simply to demonstrate compassion and act as a sounding board for Sam’s story. I cringed at how the hostages tried to keep Sam calm and patiently listened to his backstory as it was so obvious that their intents were simply to pacify him and keep themselves out of danger. From this point on there were really no surprises and it all felt rather prosaic.
Whilst I felt that the character of criminal barrister, Abigail, was believable with her lack of tact and impatience, I had less success in investing in homeless, Neil, or nursing home carer, Mutesi, who both felt overwritten and overly-earnest. Of the characters it was Eliza I wanted to hear more from and wished she had been given a bigger part of the narrative. In the end this was over-sentimental and too mawkish for my tastes and whilst the prose is engaging and there are plenty of insights into the human condition, the novel lacked realism. Once I knew the motive for the gunman’s actions my interest in the novel waned and from the halfway juncture onwards I found the blatant politically correct execution of the story tiresome.
This is a story about an armed raid, it should have thrills, and tension, and jeopardy, and violence and it has none of those things. It is a sad tale about a family break down after a death. And not a lot else...
Most of the hostages are released early on, and the three that remain are never in danger, they are there to hear Sam's story. You don't really get to know them, and the bit's that are revealed are of no interest. The title is misleading as there are no secrets from the strangers or anyone else.
There really is no fire here, nothing to make you keep reading, and the ending is really timid. The whole thing takes an age to get not very far. Not an hostage situation more a row in a tea room.
The plot is absorbing, and the characters come over as being real three-dimensional people. None are over-written, all are completely believable. If I have a small niggle, it's that I could have done without DI Eliza McClean's domestic angst - it was a distraction - but apart from that this is one of the best books I've read this year.
Buy it, it really is one of the best.