The Summer of Secrets by Barbara Hannay

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Reviewed by Ian Lipke

This book is described as “the sweeping new saga by…”. I can assure readers that it is definitely not a saga, not even a narrow one let alone a sweeping one. But of course Barbara Hannay’s readers and the author herself realise that. It’s all part of the games we play with our light fiction. We do the same thing with mystery plots and crime fiction. We read these books to be entertained and that’s what happens. Only the English language withers on the bough, and drops earthward from lack of use.

It’s totally unfair to lay any blame at Barbara Hannay’s feet.  She took a decision to write the story this way and for commercial reasons she was wise to do so. Let the setting be mostly around Tinaroo Dam. It’s located in far North Queensland and has landscape that can contribute a romantic sheen to an already exotic spot to most readers. Let there be couples who have suffered some infliction of the heart or some tragedy in their past lives that they are trying to deal with. Throw in a teenage girl and a couple of nasty drug runners, and you’re well on your way.

So, a grouchy newspaper man, once a foreign correspondent is the local town editor whose heart is broken because his wife and son were blown up by terrorists in Thailand. His twelve year old daughter, bless her father’s sensitive heart, attends a boarding school in Cairns, far away from her father. Couple number two lived together in Sydney. She wants a baby; he does not. He speaks to her in the language of a lout and she heads north to be an assistant to a newspaper editor whose wife has been blown up in Thailand. Sorry! It’s a bit predictable, but has to be or it won’t sell.

There’s a baker who disappears, an older lady whose husband cannot handle her part in a family tragedy, and a neighbour that’s just hot, man! And so sex descends, the men raise whatever they raise at these times, and the party moves to the bedrooms.

However, read this book without the cynicism of my review and you have a very fine story of human beings seeking surcease for their beaten souls. I defy any reader to not become involved in the lives of the characters who inhabit the plots of Barbara Hannay’s books. She is an excellent writer of romantic fiction and has the track record to support my claim. Look at this description and observe the master storyteller at work. Chloe and Finn are about to make love for the first time.

All she could really remember was the feverish urgency of their kisses and the breathtaking thrill of first contact. Of his skin meeting hers.  Of seductive hands and teasing lips embarking on an intimate trail of discovery. Somewhere in the hazy mists of desire, it occurred to her that they should perhaps slow down, linger a little, but there was a danger they might also come to their senses. It seemed Finn was as unwilling as she was to take that risk (200).

How graciously does she describe the sex act? The language hints and the ideas blossom in the reader, where they are nurtured by the language, and the outcome is a sharing of something beautiful, writer to reader. There is nothing dirty or unseemly in the description.

This is a novel that readers of romantic fiction will line up to buy. They know what they want, and they’ll spend good money to satisfy their want. And I will be willing to state that very few readers will realise that the story they read today is the same story in different clothes that was on the stands last month.

The book is beautifully presented as Penguin books usually are. There appeared to be no errors in the typescript, and the publisher kept the story flowing where it could have become heavy going. An excellent read for a less than discerning audience.

The Summer of Secrets

(2018)

By Barbara Hannay

Penguin

ISBN: 978-0-14-378347-3

$32.99; 384pp

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