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Every Secret Thing    by Lila Shaara order for
Every Secret Thing
by Lila Shaara
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)

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* *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The heroine of Lila Shaara's debut novel, Every Secret Thing, is somewhat of a superwoman, though full of self doubts despite her impressive accomplishments. Thirty-three year old Gina Paletta is a gorgeous ex-supermodel, who quit to study for her doctorate, and now lectures in religious studies at the College of Arts and Sciences of Tenway University. She juggles that side of her life with being a single mother (her husband died young) of active twin boys, seven-year-olds Toby and Stevie. Of course, Gina is also a wonderful mother - though anxious about it as all good moms are - and an excellent cook.

It's not the perfect life, but it is a comfortable one till it's interrupted by the local constabulary, calling Gina to a meeting with two NYPD detectives, Tommy Galloway and Russell Barnes, whom she immediately nicknames Big Bear and Cutie Pie, respectively. They tell her that they suspect two of her students, Tim Solomon and Jason Dettwiler, of murdering a third, the trio having been involved in drug dealing at the college. Also, Tim maintains a porn website, in which Gina stars - her lingerie modeling pictures are featured. Tim appears to be obsessed with his professor. The detectives believe she is in danger, but also ask her to help them arouse Tim's jealousy, in an attempt to get evidence against him. They pose as visiting professors.

Thus begins a long, slowly developing relationship - interspersed with threats and violence - between Gina and the two cops who enter her life and home. She soon falls for Big Bear who, despite her looks (which seem to arouse every male in her vicinity to inappropriate behavior, and many of the women - including an assistant district attorney - to extreme jealousy), takes his time to reciprocate. And even after the young perps are arrested, Gina's troubles are not over, with a new threat that's surprisingly close to home.

In addition to the police involvement, Gina has an odd relationship with an elderly neighbor Jessie, who keeps proferring unwanted gifts, and reveals a surprising family secret. She regularly sees a shrink, to cope with depression, mixed feelings towards her dead husband, and her highly dysfunctional family - Gina and her mother seem to hate each other, her relationships with her Hannigan aunts, uncles and cousins are prickly at best, and her in-laws treat her horribly. Though a likeable character, Gina seems too much the victim, more passive and reactive than the typical mystery heroine.

What makes this rambling novel unusual is an injection of philosophical musings - from the Alan Watts quotations that introduce every chapter to the author's own thoughts (conveyed through Gina) on topics like parental responsibility for children's actions (when 'good people have rotten kids'). I also appreciated Gina's explanation of death to her twin sons, and Toby's reaction that it's 'like string theory'. Of course, all the varied plot threads sort themselves out by the ending - the criminals are caught, the romance is resolved, and Gina forgives herself for past flaws as she settles into a new life, with at least the potential for happiness.

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