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Little Secrets


Little Secrets

How do you follow up your previous book winning the International Thriller Writers' Best Novel of the Year award? Well, Jennifer Hillier has written a story that may be even better than 2018’s JAR OF HEARTS. Her latest effort, LITTLE SECRETS, begins with a tragic event and then keeps snowballing right through to the unexpected conclusion.

Marin Machado and her four-year-old son, Sebastian, are shopping during the very hectic Christmas season at the Pike Place Market in Seattle. You can hear the burly fish mongers performing for their audience at the Pike Place Fish Market (made famous by the business self-help book, FISH) as Marin hurries through the crowd looking for last-minute holiday gifts. At one point, she stops to answer a text from her husband, Derek, who is picking up food for them at their favorite food truck. Once she has finished typing her response, she notices that Sebastian is no longer by her side. It is the nightmare of every parent as she frantically calls out her son’s name in the middle of the market and cannot find him anywhere.

Security arrives, and they put out an alert for a missing child and notify the police. When looking at the CCTV footage at the moment Marin took her eyes off of Sebastian, they see him walking away with a lollipop in one hand and someone in a Santa suit in the other.  Marin thinks to herself: Four minutes is all it took to steal a child. All it takes is a five-dollar lollipop and a Santa Claus suit.

"LITTLE SECRETS is an addictive read. Each new revelation sucks the reader deeper and deeper into the overall narrative.... When the secrets are revealed, it will catch you completely off guard as you are simply enjoying the ride with a masterful storyteller at the wheel."

LITTLE SECRETS then jumps ahead 15 months. Sebastian has never been found, and his parents are dealing with it in different ways. While Marin sees a therapist and participates in a Parents of Lost Children group every week, Derek puts his energies back into his million-dollar career as a broker in downtown Seattle --- and a six-month-long affair he has been having with a woman nearly half his age. He met 24-year-old McKenzie Li at a trendy coffee shop where she works as a barista. Marin finds out about this through the private investigator she had initially hired to help find her son. Vanessa Castro is a former cop whose retainer is dwindling, even though Marin insists on pushing forward with the search.  When Castro turns her attention to people in Derek's life, up pops the name McKenzie Li.

Marin never told her husband that she had hired a PI, which is just one of the many secrets they have kept from each other. She feels so angry and betrayed that she does not know how to channel her rage. She even goes to McKenzie's establishment and orders a tea from her, never for a moment letting on who she is. Marin decides to punish Derek by getting rid of his mistress permanently. She immediately turns to her best friend, Sal, who she dated for about a year in college. Sal owns a popular bar in Seattle and knows a lot of people. More importantly, he spent a brief time in jail and still has a few connections from that experience.

When Marin shares her desire to kill McKenzie, Sal puts her in touch with his contact, Julian. They meet at a diner as Julian feels out Marin for more information. He states his hefty price --- $250,000 --- payable in full and in cash, even if Marin changes her mind. She owns a series of upscale salons, so money is no object, and Julian indicates that there will be no paper trail as it will be put through as a donation to a charity.

Meanwhile, Derek is on a business trip out-of-state, and Castro finds proof that McKenzie is there with him. When Derek makes up a story to explain why his stay has been extended by a day, Marin turns to Sal again. This time, the best friends end up in bed together, which she does not feel the least bit guilty about due to the present circumstances.

For whatever reason, Derek returns with a different attitude. He even books a romantic weekend at Whistler Mountain for their 20th anniversary. In fact, things are going so well that Marin is convinced that the affair is over and things are back to some sense of normalcy --- although their lives without their young son will never be fully normal again. Julian had told Marin that it would take at least two weeks for him to work out a foolproof strategy before he took care of McKenzie. Either way, she has decided to call it off, even if she can't get her money back, but it appears to be too late. Marin learns that McKenzie has been missing without notice for two days.

This is just the start of that “snowball” effect I alluded to earlier, and things will keep on rolling downhill. It will continue right up to the point where Marin can trust nothing and no one, and what might have been a tenuous connection to her lost son soon becomes much closer and real than she ever expected.

LITTLE SECRETS is an addictive read. Each new revelation sucks the reader deeper and deeper into the overall narrative. It is not told strictly from Marin's point of view, which does away with any unreliable narrator claims. In fact, one section is told from McKenzie's perspective. What Hillier has created here is a seductive novel in which the story and characters do all the teasing. When the secrets are revealed, it will catch you completely off guard as you are simply enjoying the ride with a masterful storyteller at the wheel.

Reviewed by Ray Palen on May 1, 2020

Little Secrets
by Jennifer Hillier