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by Charlaine Harris
Berkley, August 2007
224 pages
ISBN: 0425214532

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Nickie Callahan used to be a model in New York City, one of the fortunate few to make it in that cut-throat world. When her agent tells her that she’s pretty much done in that world, Nickie decides to take herself back home, finish getting her college degree, and work on the novel she’s been writing for years. So off she goes to Knolls, Tennessee. It’s not quite home, but home isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, and Knolls is the home Nickie would have picked had it been her choice.

Nickie is sharing a huge old house with her best friend, MiMi Houghton, who is regrouping after her third or fourth divorce. MiMi’s family name is plastered all over town; the college is named Houghton College. Nickie has no trouble being admitted. The downside, and of course there has to be a downside, is that MiMi’s brother Cully is also in town, recuperating from HIS divorce. Nickie has had a crush on Cully since she was about 14.

Just before Nickie gets to Knolls, one of the women attending Houghton College is raped. Then one of the college professors, Barbara Tucker, is raped. People start to lock their doors. Then Nickie is raped. Now, it’s a problem. Nickie, after the initial shock wears off, decides that she is not going into hiding, she is not going to be more of a victim than she already is. She and the professor decide that the police are ignoring one significant fact: the rapist knew them. Nickie and Barbara decide they are going to find this man.

Harris writes with great love of the South, and great awareness of the prejudices and assumptions common to small Southern towns. She taps that reluctance to believe that “people like us” could be rapists; it is always the “other” who would do something so cruel. As her characters come to grips with the realization that it is, truly, “one of us”, they grow, they change.

Harris also writes with great love about the interconnectedness that comes from having lived in a small town all of one’s life, of the intimate knowledge that people have of each other and how sometimes they ignore what they see out of politeness or discomfort.

There are plenty of suspects in Knolls for Nickie and Barbara, even after they have culled their list to a relatively small number. There is nobody on that list that leaps out as a rapist. Being on that list, however, makes Nickie look at the men in her life and wonder about each of them, about what that look in this one’s eye might mean, what that turn of phrase might indicate. Until the guilty is known, nobody is automatically innocent.

Harris is a gifted writer, and A SECRET RAGE is testament to that skill. For those who haven’t read Harris, this is as good a book to start with as any. For those who enjoy her various series, A SECRET RAGE will demonstrate that Harris can write outside the series mode, and write well.

Reviewed by P. J. Coldren, August 2007

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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