Onyx reviews: The Dirty Secrets
Club by Meg Gardiner
Secrets have power, so long as they remain secrets. Once the information spreads to a
wider circle of people, they become dangerous. This is the premise behind The
Dirty Secrets Club, a novel about a group that requires applicants to divulge and confirm a personal secret that could destroy them were it
to become public.
Several people have already died by the time the San Francisco police call
upon forensic psychologist Jo Beckett. She calls herself a "deadshrinker,"
an expert in psychological autopsies in cases of "equivocal"
deaths—incidents that may be accidents, suicides, acts of self-defense or
murders. She profiles victims to determine if there's reason to believe they killed themselves or if the police should focus their attentions
The crime scene to which she is called involves a high-profile victim, Callie
Harding, a celebrity prosecutor. She was involved in a high-speed police chase
that ended when she crashed her car—possibly on purpose—off a bridge and through
the roof of an airport shuttle minivan below. Harding died on the scene, along with
several van passengers. Her passenger, an office intern, survived but was
Jo is summoned by SFPD Lieutenant Tang because this is the third incident in a few days
involving public figures. A fashion designer and his lover perished in a fire aboard a
yacht. A cardiac surgeon dies of an apparent heart attack shortly after his
son's drug overdose. Code words are left at the scenes:
"Pray," in one case and "Dirty," written in lipstick on the
prosecutor's leg. The spacing of the previous incidents implies that
another death might occur within forty-eight hours, a ticking
clock that adds urgency to Jo's investigation.
Besides revenge, the Dirty Secrets Club is a haven for blackmail and all the other crimes that arise out of the keeping and revealing of secrets. Not
satisfied with simply sharing secrets, members challenge each other to
risky and public games of Truth or Dare. Gardiner lets readers know early on
that Tang's suspicion of a crime spree is correct. A man called Skunk is
tracking down club members, punishing them on behalf of the victim of a dare gone
wrong that involves half a million dollars and injuries that left the man
talking through a speech synthesizer. The club is run in cells, which means that
no one person knows who all the members are. However, Skunk is determined to
root out everyone responsible for his boss's victimization.
Of course, Jo has an arsenal of issues. She became claustrophobic after being
trapped in a car with her father under a collapsed viaduct during the San
Francisco earthquake of 1989. She also has a dirty secret pertaining to her dead
husband, the nature of which is revealed a bit at a time over the course of the
Jo is a strong and appealing heroine, who has personal problems but is still
functional. She has good relationships with her boyfriend and her sister, and
the traumas of her past do not prevent her from doing her job. Her
claustrophobia, for example, is simply a detail and not pivotal to the plot,
like it might have been in lesser hands. The secondary characters, including an
annoying hypochondriac neighbor with a pet monkey (that plays a pivotal role
late in the book), are vivid and consistent.
However, the plot is convoluted and difficult to follow at times. The earth
isn't the only thing shaky about the book (which features several minor
earthquakes to remind readers where it is set). In the final analysis, the
behaviors of certain characters are difficult to credit, and the ending suffers
from a scene of exposition where one of the guilty parties tells Jo everything
because he thinks he's going to get away with it.
This is American author Gardiner's debut in the U.S., though
she has already published several novels that are popular in England. It's also
her first book featuring Jo Beckett after writing several in another series.
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