Title: The Secrets of Strangers
Author: Charity Norman
Published: March 3rd 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
A regular weekday morning veers drastically off-course for a group of strangers whose paths cross in a London cafe – their lives never to be the same again when an apparently crazed gunman holds them hostage. But there is more to the situation than first meets the eye and as the captives grapple with their own inner demons, the line between right and wrong starts to blur. Will the secrets they keep stop them from escaping with their lives?
‘The one night. It was a random chance, you see? Like being in here today. This was a random chance too.’
Charity Norman as shortlisted for the Best Crime Novel in the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards for Crime and she utilises this expertise to present a new crime thriller. The Secrets of Strangers is brimming with dark secrets, shocking revelations and complex issues relating to the heart of humanity. Charity Norman’s explosive new offering is absorbing from the first to the last sentence.
This is the tragic story of the events that unfurl in a London café when a gunman lets loose on a group of five strangers. For this group of five unrelated people, being in the wrong place at the wrong time means that their lives will never be the same again. While the gunman unpacks his own issues, the group he has under his control confront a number of moral and personal dilemmas. Secrets unravel, issues are disclosed and the fight for survival becomes deeply imperative. This is a day of reckoning for the patrons, staff, gunman and police negotiator of Charity Norman’s The Secrets of Strangers.
While I was reading through the author of The Secrets of Strangers Charity Norman’s biography, I noted that she was once a mediator and a telephone crisis line operator. Norman is also passionate about the power of communication. I find these facts very pertinent, as I believe that Norman’s latest story is a book that highlights the importance of communication and listening, in a time of crisis. The Secrets of Strangers zones in on a crisis at hand and how this impacts upon the innocent bystanders, as well as the perpetrator of the crime. It is a well-rounded and precise novel.
Initially I found The Secrets of Strangers to be a little eerie and confronting. For many Australian readers, this book will hit quite close to home and it may even hit a nerve. It reminded me very much of the Lindt Café Hostage Crisis of 2014. This event has still haunted me to this day, as I sure it has done for many others. The Secrets of Strangers is a book that mirrors these events in some respects, but Norman puts her own spin on the desperate situation at hand.
We are presented with a set of diverse and eclectic characters in The Secrets of Strangers. From the misunderstood and highly stressed gunman, through to the dedicated police negotiator and the actual hostages. Norman presents a varied cast. I appreciated the way in which Norman was able to completely peel back the very personal stories of each of her key protagonists. We also get a very good glimpse into the inner thoughts, feelings and concerns of the characters. These were colourful but serious back stories, which makes the audience think very carefully about everything from genocide, PTSD, guilt, domestic abuse, homelessness, IVF and career pressures. Each is presented in an insightful and thoughtful way.
I really had no idea where I stood with this novel, it can feel a little unnerving and tense at times. The plotting is astute and on point. The tension level also remained at a high pitch. This is an emotionally charged novel, that will make you think hard about what we are all hiding away and what plagues us, in an age of disconnection and at a time of uncertainty.
The Secrets of Strangers is an edgy, hypnotic and penetrating examination into the human condition. It is a novel that looks carefully at our responses when we are driven to breaking point. Revealing and addictive, The Secrets of Strangers should bring Charity Norman a new collection of readers.
The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman was published on 3rd March 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.