Woman with a Secret by Sophie Hannah

Reviewed by Richard Goldman
Paperback March 2016

Buy it at Mystery Lovers Bookshop

Sophie Hannah once again pulls off one of trademark magical mystery tours that combines a classic puzzle mystery (one with plenty of bizarre elements) with a novel of great psychological insight. Along the way she'll examine the effect of lies ranging from the innocent and well-intentioned to the ultimately fatal as well as the toll of infidelity on both the cheater and cheated.

But first, we begin with a truly strange murder scene, that of columnist Damon Bundy who is bound to a chair with a knife taped to his face in such a way that he has suffocated. On the wall is written "He is no less dead" and on the desk is a password which unlocks the victim's computer and reveals a picture of the murderer in a full hazmat suit brandishing the knife.

Meanwhile, housewife and mother Nicki Clements is driving to her child's school when she spots a policeman questioning drivers ahead of her in traffic. Nearly hysterical, Nicki makes a U turn to avoid this particular policeman which will ultimately draw the very attention to Nicki that she sought to avoid.

Enter husband-and-wife cop couple DC Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, the former particularly noted for his ability to reason through complex crimes and their motivations. We follow parallel narratives of Nicki's desperate attempts to satisfy the police inquiries into her behavior without revealing her secrets and Waterhouse's patient probing into the murder which really leaves no room for anyone's secrets.

Ultimately, Hannah probes interesting questions of what truly constitutes infidelity. Nicki has many secrets one of which involves a passionate, online correspondence with a stranger--is that cheating on her husband? Readers of the earlier books will remember that Charlie's married sister is carrying on with a similarly married fellow cop and the affect of that liaison on their respective partners is also explored.

Big lies and little ones, small betrayals and major infidelities: these are ultimately the emotional realities that underlie this splendid novel. The police work is simply Sophie Hannah's way of teasing out the truth behind our everyday actions and emotions.

A satisfying mystery and an insightful novel, all in one package.