When Danny Kellerman first receives a letter requesting help from Maria Tirado, his former lover from Sierra Leone, he's inclined to blow it off. After all Maria is the one who chose Sierra Leone over Danny. He hadn't heard a word from her in four years and now he was happily ensconced in a new relationship with a wonderful woman. But when his curiosity about the letter he received three weeks after it was dated gets the better of him, he begins to investigate it. It is only natural; as a journalist, his job is to investigate. What he uncovers devastates him and changes him forever: Maria was murdered.
Danny returns to Sierra Leone in an effort to uncover the trouble Maria was in, find out why she needed his help and what exactly the truth is about her murder. His conscience simply won't allow him to do nothing. But will he survive the corruption and evil to tell Maria's story?
THE SECRET KEEPER is journalist Paul Harris's first foray into fiction and he sure knows how to do it in grand style. The Prologue ignites the reader's emotional candle, and Harris doesn't allow it to be extinguished until long after the last page is turned.
The depiction of a Sierra Leone, both as a war-ravaged country and then as a peaceful but corrupt nation is so meticulously developed you can't help but feel as though you are there, walking alongside Danny, a first-time war correspondent, in a land being ravished by its own people:
As Sankoh swaggered around the ruins of Freetown, his boy soldiers inched closer atrocity by atrocity and the power of the government shrank like a puddle drying in the African sun. Freetown was helpless, like a rape victim lying bloodied in a gutter, purse stolen, skirt torn, waiting for the final blow.
The intensity of this novel is augmented by the extreme devastation present in Sierra Leone and facing the cast of characters. This is not simply a plot of the white hats against the black hats. And it is not sufficient to say the plot is merely "intense." The blurring lines of good and evil inch the reader closer to the edge of his/her seat, they propel the reader forward through the plot, desperately seeking the seed of all this evil and hoping retribution for all the innocent who are devastated by it lies ahead. Harris's SECRET KEEPER is not one that leaves the reader when he/she reads the final page and closes the book. It echos long after page 318.
In all fairness, I feel I also need to mention what is missing from THE SECRET KEEPER. As a first novel, I could not find any of the awkward dialogue that plagues so many first-time authors. I also could not find a lack of character development or the use of stereotype. The realism of the characters populating THE SECRET KEEPER is incredible. Most of what covers the pages of this novel is content we'd probably like to pretend on a day-to-day basis doesn't exist; like small children who squeeze their eyes shut - we don't see it, so surely it must not exist. But as Harris jars you from the comfort of a highly developed country and drops you smack dab in the middle of chaos, you know, without a doubt that there are many Kams in the world, Major Gbamanja's not an exaggeration, and Rose is a symbol of far, far, far too many mothers.
Read THE SECRET KEEPER with a word of caution. This is a book that will increase your heart rate; it isn't one you will be able to put down; and it certainly isn't one that you will easily be able to forget.
THE SECRET KEEPER (ISBN: 978-0-525-95102-5) was released by Dutton (part of the Penguin Group) in April this year. And Paul Harris is presently conducting a tour with TLC Book Tours. You can see other stops on his blog tour here. And I encourage you to stop back here at Jen's Book Thoughts this Friday to meet Paul Harris in an interview.