The Secretary by Renée Knight
Publishing Date: 21st February 2019
Source: Received from the publisher, thank you!
Number of pages: 304
Genre: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery, Suspense
Look around you. Who holds the most power in the room? Is it the one who speaks loudest, who looks the part, who has the most money, who commands the most respect?
Or perhaps it’s someone like Christine Butcher: a meek, overlooked figure, who silently bears witness as information is shared and secrets are whispered. Someone who quietly, perhaps even unwittingly, gathers together knowledge of the people she’s there to serve – the ones who don’t notice her, the ones who consider themselves to be important.
There’s a fine line between loyalty and obsession. And when someone like Christine Butcher is pushed to her limit, she might just become the most dangerous person in the room . . .
The eagerly anticipated new thriller from the No.1 bestselling author of Disclaimer.
Christine Butcher is married, has one daughter. She’s just been offered a job as a PA to Mina Appleton who, together with her father, is running a family business. Christine’s job becomes her life as Mina starts to be more and more demanding on her time and dedication, which takes its toll on her private life. After 18 years of work, Christine’s loyalty is going for a full dress rehearsal, as Mina is accused of partaking in some unethical transactions and taken to court, together with her secretary and driver. Now it’s time for Christine to ask herself how far she’s willing to go and whom shall she protect: Mina or herself?
The way the book was written was really risky. I mean, there was a secret, a hint that something has happened, mentioned in every chapter, and every single one of them ended with a cliff hanger. It is OK to know that there is some kind of mystery but there are limits of course, and it can always go wrong – the reader can simply lose interest, as sometimes too much is too much. And yes, to be absolutely honest, I was scared and I started to feel impatient and desperate at one moment, but then the mystery was solved – and I’d say, at the perfect moment, so the book was saved. And as much as I liked the first part of the story, I think the second part, the court room drama that it turned out to be, was even better.
This book is told from Christine’s point of view only, and while sometimes you can miss on other people’s narrations, it was not the case here, it was more than enough. It’s a kind of diary/not diary but describes Christine’s job, her relationships – also this with Mina – her life in a very detailed way and we see the way her attachment to Mina progresses and how this relationship shifts and changes – it was full of dramas, secrets and lies. I was completely invested in Christine’s story, and in her character as well. She was not your normal, usual heroine. She was elusive, incredibly loyal but she seemed not to know where her priorities should be. And I loved how thought – provoking it was because let’s be honest – was Christine only a victim to her boss’s manipulations? To be honest, I am not absolutely sure if she was so innocent but here I arrive at the fact that the book lacked a little in depth and character development that I’m going to tell more about in a moment. I don’t think that Christine was a pleaser and doormat, she was only desperate to make herself indispensable to her boss, to be part of her life perhaps, and she agreed with catering to her every whim and need. Sometimes it looked like she was one step ahead of Mina, anticipating her needs before they were even articulated. Mina was a very driven and ambitious character, thinking that the whole world should resolve around her and that she’s untouchable. She was manipulative, cold and egoistic and knew how to get what she wanted. It wasn’t easy to connect with those two women, to be honest, as I couldn’t relate with their behaviour, the way they were, and while I perhaps could get Mina’s greed and desire to be more profitable without caring how it’s going to happen, I simply couldn’t understand Christine and her unwillingness to set boundaries. Mina’s acceptance and prise was what kept Christine going. But they both were the strength that has pushed the story forward because you may not agree with them but they were fascinating character, and their relationship even more.
However, I missed more on the “why” – why was Christine the way she was? Why wasn’t she able to say no? What was it that attracted her so much to Mina? So much that she was able to sacrifice everything for a – theoretically – totally strange woman? What was her motivation? But other than that, this book was an excellent page turner, a great case study, a brilliant look into person’s personality. It was part a psychological thriller, and part a court room drama, and the tension there, and the feeling of uncertainty, were really well captured. It was a slow burner, but so well written, so full of insight into the characters’ heads, and with a truly brilliant ending that was an absolute surprise.
Altogether, “The Secretary” was a gripping story about misplaced loyalty and power games, about manipulation. Also, my favourite kind of read, full of questions and understatements and it’ll make you ask yourself questions. Thought – provoking and gripping, another brilliant story from the author of “Disclaimer” – truly recommended.