Book Review: The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

The Secrets of Strangers…

About the Book:

A gunshot rings out in a London cafe and the lives of five strangers will never be the same again. The only thing that’s certain is that nothing is as it seems.

Five strangers, one cafe – and the day that everything changed.

A regular weekday morning veers drastically off-course for a group of strangers whose paths cross in a London cafe – 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?

My Thoughts:

‘The early moments of a siege are the most dangerous. Attackers panic. The lizard brain takes over: the primeval fight-or-flight response, smothering rational thought. They can’t run, so they lash out. They do appalling things: things that their friends and family can’t believe of them; things they can’t believe of themselves when they look back later.’

I liked this book far more than I anticipated. I expected a crime story, a cafe under siege, tense right the way through, more focus on the events than the characters. It was tense alright, but it dug down deep into the lives of the characters, steering me towards a feeling of empathy with a gunman – something I never thought I’d ever feel. But as the story unfolds, Sam (aka gunman) becomes less of a crazed man with a gun and more of a fellow human being who has been wronged, over and over, a victim of a master manipulator and an unfortunate pawn in a young woman’s naivety. Grief over first losing his farm, then his daughter, and finally his mother; rage at his step-father for years of personal injustice and witnessing the terrible man gas-light his mother until she was all but destroyed; weighed down with fatigue and over stimulated by days of chewing Ritalin; by the end, I could see so clearly the how and why of Sam being where he was at that moment in time with a gun in his hands. And, so could his hostages. And even more telling, so could his hostage negotiator, a character, I’d like to point out as being remarkable. I very much enjoyed the inclusion of that perspective to the story.

‘He likes all three of these people. In fact, he’s wondering whether he’s got some kind of Stockholm syndrome but in reverse. It’s him aligning with them, not the other way around.’

Less terrifying siege and more breakfast club (but with a gun and barred doors), over the course of a very long day, Sam and his hostages get to know each other. It surprises them all, this sharing of stories, to the point where they are genuinely trying to get the best outcome for Sam. This is a novel that really humanises suffering, which shows with so much clarity that everyone has a breaking point, and that sometimes good people do bad things. I was in tears by the end. The author reels you in, bit by bit, until you are so immersed it’s as though you are a hostage in the cafe as well. This is a top read, utterly gripping and beautifully written. I’ll certainly be reading more from Charity Norman, you can count on it.

‘Hours later, one of the owls hooted in the dark mass of the spinney. He opened his eyes and saw that the sky had cleared, and so had his mind. Stars blazed from one horizon to another. The clock was striking again. One, two, three strikes and you’re out.’


Thanks is extended to Allen & Unwin for providing me with a review copy of The Secrets of Strangers.

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 the northeast of England. Also a mediator and telephone crisis line listener, she’s passionate about the power of communication to slice through the knots. 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. Her first novel, Freeing Grace, was published in 2010. Second Chances (After the Fall) was a Richard and Judy Book Club choice and World Book Night title. See You in September, her last book, was shortlisted for Best Crime Novel in the 2018 Ngaio Marsh Awards for Crime Fiction. The Secrets of Strangers is her sixth book.

The Secrets of Strangers
Published by Allen & Unwin
Released 3rd March 2020

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Secrets of Strangers by Charity Norman

  1. Pingback: Top 20 for 2020 – Books to gift this Christmas | Theresa Smith Writes

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