The Family Secret by Fiona Palmer


Reviewed by Ian Lipke

Fiona Palmer’s new book contains the heart-warming, life-affirming atmosphere we have come to know from her previous novel, The Saddler Boys. Set in a rural environment the novel tells the story of rural ambassador Kim Richards who contributes a great deal to her community but who, beneath the surface, feels abandoned and is desperately lonely. Kim meets a hermit, an old man who calls himself Harry, a man who wants just to keep his head down and have next to no contact with the community. Kim breaks through his shell and over the course of time learns his story.

There is also a character named Charlie McNamara who becomes eventually Kim’s new love interest. As is often the case the sparks fly in the tinder dry relationship. Love will have its way, however, and the relationship becomes the saviour of Kim’s soul and the source of the fruitful life that had avoided her for so long.

There is nothing new or original in this novel. The reader would have to be pretty thick not to guess one of the most likely explanations of the family secret. The book is written in such a way that any one of a number of scenarios might have been chosen. Such is the way with so many rural romances. This is not a negative criticism since it is what the readership of this style of novel have often demonstrated they want. It is not a criticism of Palmer’s writing style either. She is easy to read, comfortable in herself and accordingly makes her readership comfortable with her.

Palmer is not a Thomas Hardy. Her characters are not tormented. Her Kim does not have the depth of a Tess of the D’Urbevilles, lacks that character’s passion, and is no more than a nice person to know. She has a vibrancy that is pleasant to observe, and one wonders whether this woman will ever warm up and win her man. And then it happens. She puts Charlie on the spot, the modern way, with a text asking if he wants to kiss her. The plot at last gains pace.

He moved his lips against hers softly, as a prelude. But then her hands snaked around his waist and moved to his backside, dragging him closer, and he lost control. He deepened the kiss. Their mouths pressed against each other. He was rock hard, but didn’t dare press against her. He needed to hold on just enough to remember where they were (208).

It’s taken over 200 pages but Kim’s world is suddenly all sunshine and violins. In fact it is the lovemaking that adds colour to an otherwise drab experience. Palmer does love scenes very well.

Of course there is more to the story than a shallow treatment of human relationships. There is the clever flashback into a period in the lives of so many of our own Vietnam veterans. The visions from the past form a strong basis for the troubles exhibited in the present and the book is enriched by them. The author’s provision of these experiences raises its merit and lifts the story above the pedestrian exposure it would otherwise have been.

A comfortable book, one recommended to the romance readers’ lobby.

The Family Secret
by Fiona Palmer
Penguin/Michael Joseph
ISBN: 978-0-14-379980-1
340pp; $32.99


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