by Rebekah Benoit
If you found an envelope amongst your spouse’s things – perhaps in a dusty shoebox in the basement, hidden in a pile of old tax returns –and it was marked, “Open only in case of my death…,” would you open it? Would you ask your spouse first? What secrets might your spouse reveal in a deathbed confession, when there are no consequences, no possible fallout to damage your relationship and threaten your future?
This is the dilemma faced by Cecilia Fitzpatrick in the first few pages of The Husband’s Secret, and it remains, taunting readers and dangling just out of reach, throughout the first half of the novel. Should she open it? What might her husband John-Paul reveal in this missive, obviously written years earlier?
Cecilia is one of those women often referred to these days as a “Pinterest Mom.” She seems to be able to do the impossible: balance the needs of her three daughters with her surprisingly successful job selling Tupperware, and at the same time manage to maintain an impeccably-clean home, volunteer at school, and make all of her fellow moms jealous in the process as they ask each other, “How does she do it?”
When she uncovers John-Paul’s sealed letter and confronts him about it over the phone, he dismisses it as an embarrassing moment of sentimentality written just after the birth of their first daughter. He asks Cecilia not to read it, claiming to be sheepish about the sappy missive, but Cecelia can detect the falseness behind his seemingly innocuous request. Her husband is worried, terrified even, that she might read that letter. She can tell right away that he’s lying when he says there’s nothing of importance in it. What secret is he hiding? What terrible truth does he not want to reveal until his death? Can she withstand her mounting fear and overpowering need to know? Unbeknownst to Cecilia, the contents of that letter will have devastating consequences for several other women in their tight-knit community.
One of these unsuspecting women is Tess. For her entire life, Tess has been part of a duo: Tess-and-Felicity. Her cousin Felicity, daughter of her mom’s twin sister, is the same age as Tess, and the two have been best friends, closer than sisters, since birth. Tess has always been the pretty one, a slim bookend to morbidly-obese Felicity, so when Tess married her true love Will, she never imagined Felicity might become competition. After losing nearly 100 pounds, however, Felicity has discovered a beauty she never knew existed…and she’s not the only one. Tess’s husband has also been blown away by Felicity’s gorgeous new self. When Felicity and Will announce that they’ve fallen in love, Tess flees back to her hometown of Sydney, Australia with her son Liam, to the comforting arms of her mother. While she’s there, she rediscovers an old flame. Connor Whitby is the PE teacher at Liam’s new school, and he and Tess had a brief fling years earlier. As Tess buries her own heartache in the excitement of a new romance, she doesn’t think about the fact that, decades earlier, Connor Whitby was the only person of interest in the murder of teenager Janie Crowley.
Janie’s mother Rachel has never really bounced back from the shocking murder of her 16-year old daughter Janie decades earlier. After the first numbing months of grief turned into years, Rachel has learned to cope, but she’s never stopped wondering who could have murdered her only daughter. She’s always suspected Connor Whitby, the last person known to have seen her daughter alive, but there has never been evidence to support his guilt. Her grandson Jacob has helped Rachel somewhat, in spite of the rather frosty relationship she has with her daughter-in-law, but when Jacob’s parents announce they’re moving across the world to New York, Rachel’s world crumbles once again. Only the possibility of new evidence in Janie’s murder case keeps Rachel going.
With the simple opening of an envelope, Cecilia will set in motion a series of events which will have a profound impact on the lives of all of these women. Liane Moriarty spins out this suspenseful tale with characteristic deftness and artistry. A suspenseful read, The Husband’s Secret is also rife with a sharp wit and a deep empathy for her characters, which will have you laughing out loud one minute and fighting back tears the next.
As with all of Moriarty’s novels, I found this one compulsively readable, heartrending and hilarious. A must-read!