Thursday, 10 October 2013

Public Secrets by Nora Roberts

Public Secrets (1990) (Bantam USA)
Nora Roberts
Grade: A
Genre: romantic suspense
Sex scenes: mild
Source: own

At three years old, Emma met her father for the first time from her favourite hiding place under the kitchen sink, and fell in love. Taken away from the mother that didn’t love her, to live with her father, Brian McAvoy and his wife, Bev, Emma finally has the chance to flourish. Her father is lead-singer of Devastation, soon to become one of the biggest bands of all time, and quickly, his bandmates Johnno, Stevie and P.M. become her family too. When her father and Bev give her a baby brother, four-year-old Emma’s life is complete.

When beautiful two-year-old Darren is murdered, the tragedy rips Emma’s family apart. Emma lives at first with Brian before being sent away to boarding school in New York when Bev isolates herself in her grief. The killers are never caught and Emma is forced to grow up fast to deal with the publicity and the bodyguards forever on her tail. Regardless of the time that has passed, Detective Lou Kesselring, in charge of the case, never stops looking.

Emma’s upbringing might be unconventional and scattered, but she’s got her constants that keep her grounded, and content. Devastation are her surrogate family and while each member has his own personal battles to fight, Emma always brings out the best in them and vice versa. Then there’s Michael Kesselring. Only son of Lou Kesselring and five years Emma’s senior, he keeps popping up at the most unexpected times in Emma’s life and too many times, a future between them is tantalisingly out of reach.

It’s 1990 and Emma is now a photographer in New York, living the life she has always dreamed with her best friend Marianne. She may still blame herself for not preventing Darren’s death, but she’s survived and even managed to fall in love. However, the man who’s about to become her husband isn’t at all the man she thinks he is, and he’s a sore replacement for Michael. As old and painful memories surrounding Darren’s murder resurface piece by piece, will Emma – with Michael’s help – be able to discover the truth about the nightmares that have plagued her for so long?

I love this book; it’s up there with Honest Illusions and Sweet Revenge and anyone who reads this blog will know what that means. It perhaps isn’t quite so favourite-d as the former two books, but Public Secrets is still a book that I will re-read for the rest of my life.

The story is told charmingly, much like Honest Illusions and Sweet Revenge. We start with a very young Emma (three) and her early life. We meet Michael briefly via his father, Lou during the investigation, and again several years later when Lou checks in with Brian. We check in sporadically through boarding school and there’s a wonderful scene when Emma is surfing in California aged 13, with another encounter with Michael where their crushes are now mutual. We spend some time with Emma and Marianne in NY as they embark on their early careers, and the rest of the story continues as Emma is in her early twenties and about to go on tour with Devastation as official photographer. It is on tour that she meets her future husband, Drew, which begins the most important – upsetting, painful and poignant – era of her adult life. This is where Public Secrets differs some from Honest Illusions and Sweet Revenge. While the novels were similar in taking the reader through the heroine’s childhood, Roxy and Addy respectively lacked this period in their lives of utter helplessness and despair. NR creates an additional vulnerability about Emma that makes her more loveable and just makes you want to wrap her up in bubble wrap and protect her from all the evils that the world has to offer. Despite this, NR’s words are magical as they hit the page, knowing just where in Emma’s life to place the milestones and hurdles to set in place everything she needs for present day (1990!).

One thing about Public Secrets that is better than both Honest Illusions and Sweet Revenge is how many secondary characters there are to love. Devastation are your ultimate boy band, complete with drugs, drink, excesses and groupies; the people that have created the culture that still pervades boy bands and rock bands today. I have no idea how accurate this depiction was, but I loved it. They each had their problems and hang-ups, but loved Emma to distraction. She was a central bonding point for them all and despite their problems with each other, it was heart-warming to see how she could unite them all into the surrogate family they had become.

There are so many parts to love and laugh aloud at. NR is the master at making a reader laugh and weep, be overjoyed and devastated all in the space of a chapter. I’ve got dozens of favourite scenes, but each section and chapter is preceded by one so equally brilliant that I can’t help but start at the beginning every time. It’s going to be a fierce battle between Public Secrets and Sweet Revenge (if only I owned Honest Illusions too!) to see which I re-read more often!

There are too many books on my ‘favourite books of 2013’ list! I could include all of them when I come to do my round-up of the year, but that would be a bit excessive. Public Secrets is one of the ‘definitely’ titles on that list but it’s only October and I’ve already started culling, because I know I won’t want to do it when the time comes. Public Secrets is a standalone, but in my head, I class it as an ‘oxymoron’ book, because of the paradox of the title. To date, I have managed to read all but one of the books that I think of as this ‘series’, and they’ve been a fruitful source of my favourite books: four of them are on my absolute keepers list: Public Secrets, Sweet Revenge, Honest Illusions and Hot Ice. To be honest, I am a bit sad that NR doesn’t write these types of romantic suspense anymore, but they were pretty specific to the time-period in which they were set, and she has done a fantastic job with making her contemporaries contemporary.

So why should Public Secrets get a place on your immediate-to-be-read-list? Even if you end up hating the story and the characters, the mastery of the writing is something to behold. There's no one quite like Nora Roberts in style, quality and just a pure good story and that's something to be treasured. She's got over two hundred novels to choose from and so if you're going to lose your Nora-Roberts-virginity or just find another reason to love her, then it might as well be with a classic.

Image courtesy of Fantastic Fiction.

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