The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris

the-secret-keeperThe Secret Keeper by Paul Harris is a different type of reading for me than what I am normally used to.  While it takes place in Africa (and I’m all over books sets in Africa), it’s more of a mystery thriller, a genre that I usually avoid.  I’m not really sure why, I don’t think I’ve ever had any bad experiences with the genre, in fact I don’t think it’s a genre that I’ve even really tried.  Maybe to many different interests elsewhere?  My first foray into the genre has me wondering if I should try a couple more books to see if it’s something that I should explore more.

In The Secret Keeper, Danny Kellerman, a British journalist, four years earlier landed the story of his lifetime when sent to Sierra Leone as a war correspondent to cover the political upheaval and civil war taking place there.  Being on the front lines had always been his dream job, but what he didn’t expect was to fall in love with Maria, an American woman who ran a orphanage for ex-child soldiers.  They have a brief but passionate relationship and when the crisis elevates he has no choice but to board a plane and go back home leaving Maria behind.

Four years later, Danny is living back in London with his girlfriend and is at odds with his father.  Danny receives a letter from Maria which pleads for him to return to Sierra Leone because she’s in trouble and needs his help.  But the letter didn’t arrive in time, and Danny learns that Maria was murdered just days earlier in a roadside robbery.  Danny can’t shake the feeling that there isn’t something right and that there had to be more motive surrounding her death than just a “roadside robbery.”

Against his family and his girlfriend’s wishes, he returns to Sierra Leone to find answers.  While there is a new type of peace in Sierra Leone, it’s not the same country that he left.  Former rebel leaders now hold high offices in government and secrecy and corruption seem rampant.  And asking to many questions about Maria gets Danny further into trouble and he soons finds himself in dangerous and life threatening situations.  As he uncovers more of the mystery surrounding Maria’s death, he finds that she might not be the woman that he thought she was.

What I liked about this book was knowing that the author Paul Harris is a journalist turned novelist and that he spent time as a war correspondent in Africa covering the conflict in Sierra Leone.  I found that completely fascinating and wondered how much of his experience was pulled into the novel.  Thank goodness, I was able to ask Paul directly and you’ll be able to see some of his thoughts in my author interview which I’ll feature tomorrow.  I will be the first to admit that I’m really ignorant on the political climate of Sierra Leone and I appreciate being introduced to new places and new people through fiction.

The Secret Keeper was fast paced with lots of twists and turns that had me unable to guess how the book would end.  I liked the multiple story lines, one told in 2004 as Danny researches Maria’s death and the second in 2000 with Danny’s first trip to Sierra Leone and his falling in love with her.  I enjoyed seeing how the two stories came together and revealed their relationship together as he was uncovering her death.

What I didn’t like about the book?  Long time readers of my blog can probably guess that I am not a fan of lots of foul language.  I can stand some language but when I feel like I’m getting bogged down with it than I get very distracted.  At one point, I almost wish I had kept track of the number of times the “F-word” was used.  When the characters get into a rollicking conversation, it could be as many as 5-6  a page.  Of course, it’s not every page, but it’s just enough to make me a little hesitant to recommend it to those who like cleaner reads.  On a good note, the sex scenes were very tastefully done.  The “leave it to my imagination” kind.

I don’t think The Secret Keeper will make my top ten reads of the year, but overall, I liked it.  It had a great storyline, believable characters, and set against a volatile background of war, greed, murder, and deceit, it makes for an intriguing read.  I can also see it as a great movie.  Plus, you know me and my Africa war books.  I’m always up for anything that covers those type of issues.  Just beware the language.

The Secret Keeper will be on tour the rest of May and into June with TLC Book Tours, so do check out what other bloggers are saying.  As for me, I’m really curious to see what everybody else thinks.  But that’s not all folks!  Come back tomorrow for an interview with Paul Harris. I have to admit that this was one of my most intimidating interviews I’ve ever conducted.  What do you ask a man who has risked his life covering war stories in Africa?  You’ll find out.  And as if that’s not enough, I got my hands on a second copy of The Secret Keeper, so I’ll be doing a giveaway tomorrow as well!

Do you have any other recommendations for books set in Sierra Leone?  This is a topic that I’d love to read more about.

Links of interest:  The Secret Keeper website.  Blog stops with TLC Book Tours.
Genre:  Mystery/thriller.
Publisher:  Dutton Adult.  April 2nd, 2009
Hardcover, 336 pages.  ISBN: 0525951024
The Secret Keeper is available from your independent bookstore, Powell’s, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.


  1. I’m reviewing THE SECRET KEEPER for the TLC tour and I, too, really enjoyed this book, Natasha. This, however, is more along the lines of my genre. I’m a mystery/thriller buff – so if you decide you want some others to try, feel free to check out my blog for suggestions.

    As far as Africa goes, the writing team of Michael Stanley (Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) started a series last year that is set in Botswana. Both writers are from South Africa and are very true to their setting. The first book from their series, A CARRION DEATH, which I am holding a give away for right now, is an amazing look at the people, the setting, and the diamond trade. Their second book is coming out June 2nd called THE SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU. Good stuff!

    on May 18th, 2009 at 6:02 am
  2. I received a copy of The Secret Keeper from the author for review (separate from the TLC tour) and I’m thinking I’ll review it in late June or early July, after the TLC tour is over. Your review definitely made me excited to read it, so thank you!

    on May 18th, 2009 at 8:09 am
  3. Excellent review, Natasha! Thanks so much for all the effort you put into everything you do. It is really appreciated!!

    on May 18th, 2009 at 8:22 am
  4. I read A Long Way Gone which is also set in Sierra Leone if I remember correctly but it fell short for me. It’s a memoir os sorts but the details are a bit sketchy. I attribute that to the authors extreme drug use duing his experiences there. My book group had mixed feelings about it.

    on May 18th, 2009 at 8:46 am
  5. That does sound good. I don’t like a lot of foul language either, but I can skim over it if the book is good.

    on May 18th, 2009 at 9:51 am
  6. I don’t know about Western Africa, but I read a PHENOMENAL series of books written by Wilbur Smith that mostly took place in South Africa. Part historical fiction, part action, part love story, these books follow the dynasty of the Courtney family. It is a commitment to read them…there are twelve of them, plus one that just came out called Assegai, which I just bought on my Kindle. One of my husband’s co-workers and I read them all, and were mesmerized by the skill of Smith’s storytelling.

    on May 18th, 2009 at 10:40 am
  7. This sounds really interesting, Natasha! I have never read anything set in Sierra Leone. A mystery/thriller is also a great genre in which to visit new places. I’m definitely going to look for this.

    on May 18th, 2009 at 3:59 pm
  8. Sounds like a good one! I like an African setting, too. Right now all I can think of are nonfiction: Out of Africa, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, and Elspeth Huxley’s trilogy of her childhood in Africa.

    on May 18th, 2009 at 6:26 pm
  9. Jen – Isn’t Alexander McCall Smith’s books set in Botswana as well? Looking forward to hearing what you think of The Secret Keeper.

    Heather – I’m excited that you’re excited. I hope you like it.

    LisaMM – Thank you for organizing the tour!

    Ti – I have had A Long Way Gone on my TBR list forever and recently picked up a used copy. I forgot it was set in Sierra Leone.

    Kathy – I usually can skim it too but if it’s to much, I do get bogged down.

    Sandy – Whew, 12 books is a lot!

    Literature Housewife – I hope you look for it. Or at least enter my contest for it tomorrow.

    Beth F. – The only one I’ve heard of is Out of Africa. I’ll look into the other two. Thanks!

    on May 18th, 2009 at 11:49 pm
  10. This definitely sounds like a book I want to read! Written by a journalist, set in faraway lands, plus I enjoy good mysteries/thrillers!

    Oh, and yes, Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is set in Botswana.

    on May 19th, 2009 at 8:56 am
  11. As I mentioned on your interview post, one book I liked based in Sierra Leone was ‘A long way gone’. But I have a feeling that you’ve already read it.

    I used to get distracted by foul language before, but not anymore. Got used to it I guess.

    on May 20th, 2009 at 12:11 am
  12. Great review Natasha. I just finished this yesterday and posted my review today. I do like a good thriller so I liked this one. The violence especially with children troubled me but I realize it’s a part of the life portrayed in the book. It certainly had my heart pounding wondering what was going to happen in certain situations.

    on May 20th, 2009 at 10:51 am
  13. I don’t like profanity, but this sounds like a good read.

    on May 20th, 2009 at 6:35 pm
  14. Great review! This sounds like a good book & one that I’d like to read. Your review helped me to get a good idea of what I would be reading & your honest opinions about the book were appreciated.


    on May 21st, 2009 at 2:47 pm
  15. Nice review. This type of book normally wouldn’t be my kind of book either, but it sounds pretty interesting.

    on May 23rd, 2009 at 5:43 pm
  16. This sounds like something I might be able to get my husband to read. I usually don’t gravitate towards this genre either. Like you, I haven’t had any bad experiences with it. I haven’t had any that I can think of.

    on May 24th, 2009 at 11:31 am
  17. Thanks for the review, it makes the book sounds really interesting ( being a mystery/fantasy lover also interested in politics- this sounds great)

    on May 24th, 2009 at 4:37 pm
  18. I actually heard of the book via twitter, thank you for a great review.

    on May 27th, 2009 at 5:59 pm
  19. [...] Natasha at Maw Books Blog Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Danny Postel review of Afary & Anderson Foucault in Iran bookGuest Reader Interview2007 In Review!Oprah’s Book Club Posted in fiction, historical fiction, politics, review copy, thriller. Tags: paul harris. No Comments » [...]

    on June 12th, 2009 at 5:26 pm
  20. I really loved this book and how eye-opening it was while at the same time entertaining. This is a well crafted novel. I’ve added a link to your review on my post.

    on June 17th, 2009 at 7:19 am

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