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Secret Smile    by Nicci French order for
Secret Smile
by Nicci French
Order:  USA  Can
Warner, 2004 (2004)
Hardcover, Audio, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A brief, unfortunate fling opens the door to nightmare territory for Miranda, her family and friends. The worst part is that only she realizes what's happening and, as often is the case with Nicci French's thrillers, no-one believes the heroine - neither her closest relatives, nor the authorities.

Miranda breaks off her relationship with Brendan Block after she discovers him in her apartment (uninvited) reading her private journal. But he's soon back in her life again, and she can't get rid of him. Miranda works in her uncle's decorating business, an unusual occupation for a young woman. She's up a ladder, when her sister Kerry calls, ecstatic about a new boyfriend. Of course, you've guessed who it is. Brendan has wormed his way into the bosom of Miranda's family, and charmed them all, even her troubled younger brother Troy (a 'shy, scared, socially dysfunctional' genius damaged at his foundations by years of systematic bullying). Brendan tells everyone about his relationship with Mirrie (his name for her). He claims that he broke it off, and that Miranda is 'angry and bitter'.

Soon Brendan and Kerry are engaged, are selling Kerry's flat and planning to buy a home. When the purchase falls through, the homeless happy couple end up rooming with Miranda. She can't tell whether she's in a 'Greek tragedy' or a 'situation comedy'. But bizarre things are said and done, and a horrid situation steadily escalates into one that's absolutely horrific. There are deaths and the police suspect nothing and no-one. Miranda feels responsible for other people who might walk unknowingly into the same situation that she did, and investigates Brendan's past and present relationships. Though she is sure that Brendan has been 'trampling over my family, grinding his boots over all our hopes', we don't know if she's over-reacting. And Miranda desperately wonders why 'Nobody but me ever seemed to see.'

The tension becomes unbearable, but it finally does break into a resolution I didn't see coming, involving a surprising alliance. Though Land of the Living is still my favorite of Nicci French's thrillers, Secret Smile comes a close second.

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