A regular weekday morning veers drastically off-course for a group of strangers whose paths cross in a London café – their lives never to be the same again when an apparently crazed gunman holds them hostage.
But there is more to the situation than first meets the eye and as the captives grapple with their own inner demons, the line between right and wrong starts to blur. Will the secrets they keep stop them from escaping with their lives?
I’m delighted to be taking part in the blog tour for The Secrets of Strangers today. I loved the sound of this novel as soon as I read the blurb, and really enjoyed this take on a hostage situation.
It starts with Sam who is in his early twenties and, on the morning in question, is seen (and heard) arguing with the owner of local café, Tuckbox. He leaves the café, clearly aggrieved, but returns minutes later with a shotgun. He shoots the café’s owner, and holds Tuckbox’s customer’s hostage, seeing no way out. What follows is a tense situation as the police cordon the area and a hostage negotiator tries to establish contact with Sam. Norman brilliantly captures the stress of the situation, for all involved. The reader is made to feel as though they are a part of these events, and it was fascinating to see the situation play out. It doesn’t go as you might expect, and it was brilliant to see Norman evolve the situation in unexpected ways.
Sam gradually opens up to the hostage negotiator and reveals the how he came to be at Tuckbox that morning. It’s a story that begins with an eight-year-old Sam and the death of his father – an understandably pivotal moment in his life. What follows is an emotional tale of an unhappy child growing into adulthood. It’s a tale of a manipulative and controlling individual, one that Sam feels powerless to do anything against. It’s difficult to read, and all the more so for being an entirely realistic portrayal of years of abusive behaviour and the affect it can have.
The Secrets of Strangers is told from multiple points of view – the hostages, Sam, and the police negotiator, Eliza. This works brilliantly to give the reader insight into what each of these characters is feeling and to allow each character to share their perspective on events. For the hostages, it begins as a completely normal day as their individual circumstances lead them to Tuckbox and an event that will change their lives forever. I loved seeing what brought each of the hostages – Abi, Mutesi, and Neil – to Tuckbox that day. I think that it successfully highlights the random chance of such as encounter – improbable, but possible – and allows the reader to put themselves in that situation and to consider how they’d act. We find out more about their backgrounds as well as Sam’s, and this adds to what is already an emotionally charged novel as Norman makes you care about these characters. Throughout, I wondered how these people were going to get out of the situation and how their lives would be altered as a result.
The Secrets of Strangers is a brilliant novel, and one that I heartily recommend. It’s a unique take on a hostage situation as Norman plays with the reader’s sympathies, taking the story in a different direction to what you might expect.
The Secrets of Strangers was published by Allen & Unwin on 7 May and is available in paperback, eBook, and audio formats. Many thanks to the publisher and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for the review copy and the opportunity to take part in the blog tour.
About the Author
Charity Norman was born in Uganda and brought up in successive draughty vicarages in Yorkshire and Birmingham. After several years’ travel she became a barrister, specialising in crime and family law. In 2002, realising that her three children had barely met her, she took a break from the law and moved with her family to New Zealand. The Secrets of Strangers is her sixth novel.
Make sure you check out the other wonderful bloggers taking part in the tour: