The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

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C ecilia Fitzpatrick is one of those highly capable women who appear to have it all–a successful husband, three accomplished young daughters and a perfect home in the suburbs of Sydney, Australia. She’s also president of the school parents’ association and has her own highly successful career in Tupperware sales. Cecilia’s perfect world is fractured when she comes upon an unopened letter from her husband, John-Paul, while searching through boxes of old tax records in her attic.

The letter is addressed to Cecilia, with instructions to be opened only in the event of his death. She puts the letter aside with every intention of honoring his wishes, but circumstances soon compel her to ignore her ethics and read it. Like Pandora, who unleashed the evils of humanity when she opened a forbidden box, Cecilia has set in motion a chain of events that will bring her world crashing down around her.

Cecilia isn’t the only woman in Sydney with a secretive husband. Tess Curtis has recently returned from Melbourne to live with her mother after her husband, Will, and business partner, Felicity, announced that they are in love. Felicity, who is Cecilia’s cousin and best friend, has always been Tess’ overweight sidekick. She has been an integral part of Tess’ work and family life, never developing relationships on her own. But Felicity has recently lost a great deal of weight and emerged like a beautiful butterfly from her cocoon. Tess believed her marriage was strong and is devastated when Will says he loves Felicity, so she packs up six-year-old Liam and flees to Sydney.

While registering Liam for school at St. Angela’s, her own primary school, Tess reconnects with Cecilia and with Rachel Crowley, the school secretary. Rachel is haunted by another secret—the identity of the killer of her teenage daughter, Janie. More than two decades have passed since 17-year-old Janie’s body was found at a local playground, but Rachel constantly relives the events leading up to her death. Although both Cecilia and Tess remember Janie, neither could have guessed their own connection to Janie’s murder that would be uncovered over the next few days.

Rachel has never gotten over Janie’s murder, cutting herself off from her husband and teenage son, Rob, following Janie’s death. She feels separated from the world, and the only joy in her life is the time she spends caring for her toddler grandson. When Rob announces that he and his family will be moving to New York as part of a two-year work assignment, Rachel feels the walls she has built up beginning to crumble. She focuses even more relentlessly on her daughter’s unsolved murder. She’s always been convinced that Connor Whitby, a teenager who was identified as the last person to see Janie alive, was the person who strangled her. All she needs is evidence that will convince the police of Connor’s guilt.
Unlike Janie, who is frozen in time at age 17, Connor Whitby has grown up and grown older. He’s currently the PE teacher at St. Angela’s, a weight-lifting hunk who also happens to be one of Tess’ ex-boyfriends. In reaction to Will’s and Felicity’s betrayal, Tess finds herself being drawn into a dangerous flirtation with Connor, who rides a motorcycle and is in many ways the opposite of her comfortable husband. Meanwhile, Connor is hoping to turn a flirtation into something more serious.

Cecilia, Tess and Rachel are members of a tightly knit Irish Catholic community that revolves around St. Angela’s parish. The novel’s themes of guilt, grief and redemption are tied to the Catholic faith and the season of Easter. All of the characters are grieving a loss or betrayal and will experience guilt as a result of their actions. As the days pass from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, the plot builds to what could be called a kind of redemption–an event that will bring some characters together while causing others to part forever.

This is the fifth novel from author Liane Moriarty, a lifelong Sidney resident who is married with two small children. Big Little Lies, her follow-up to The Husband’s Secret, was the first book by an Australian author to debut at number one on The NY Times bestseller list. Moriarty is an expert at weaving together the threads of her story, jumping from woman to woman and back and forth in time. She even offers alternative views of the future if Cecilia had never opened her Pandora’s Box in the form of John-Paul’s letter.

Moriarty is just as expert at supplying just enough detail to make her characters and their lives believable and real. She has created a highly readable story that combines suspense, humor, romance and even some philosophy. This is chick lit at its finest. HLM