At first, this reviewer wanted to warn readers not to be taken in by the light tone of Liane Moriarty’s The Husband’s Secret. On second thought, maybe readers should let this rather crafty novelist’s deceptive breeziness and humor sweep them along. It makes the shocks just that much more deliciously nasty, including the gob-smacking twist in the epilogue.
On the surface, the story is about a group of nice, middle-class, mostly Catholic women living in modern-day Australia. There’s Cecilia, the disconcertingly chipper and organized Tupperware salesperson with her mysterious, moody husband John-Paul and their beautiful young daughters. There’s Tess, who embarks on an affair of her own after she discovers her cousin Felicity is sleeping with her husband. And then there’s poor Rachel Crowley, whose daughter Janie was found dead in a park many years ago as a teenager. The case has never been solved, but Rachel’s sure she knows who killed Janie.
A constellation of spouses, children and co-workers surrounds these women, giving the proceedings a cozy normality that we know can’t last. Though men tend to be background figures, the most developed is Connor Whitby, the P.E. teacher at the school attended by Cecilia and Tess’ kids. Handsome and fit, Connor has everyone wondering why he remains unmarried well into his 40s.
Perhaps there’s a reason that most everyone in the book is Catholic, given its themes of sin, both venal and mortal, of guilt and redemption, forgiveness and confession—as well as its images of Easter eggs and hot cross buns and wrongdoings that erupt on Good Friday like the undead. The genius of The Husband’s Secret is that it makes us start to wonder what in our own lives would—or would not—have happened if, say, we had waited just five more minutes before we walked out the door, had not said that hurtful thing, had applied a bit of logic to that situation. The Husband’s Secret is as scary as it is familiar.