The Patient's Secret
Grade : C

The Patient’s Secret was one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2022. Unfortunately, it didn’t fulfill the hopes I had for it.

Lily and Tom Bradley are respected residents of the comfortably posh Story Cove community. She is a psychotherapist, he’s a distinguished professor at the local university. They live in an eggplant-colored dream house with their two children, Matthew and Phoebe. Phoebe is a twelve-year-old goth chic, just reaching that age where rebellion is a key aspect of her relationship with her parents; Matthew is a budding photographer who loves to document every facet of neighborhood life. To Lily, her typical suburban existence, with its book clubs, school activities, and Sunday morning church attendance, is perfection. But even she knows the sweet exterior is only veneer. The truth isn’t quite so pretty.

Arwen Harper packed up her life and moved herself and her teenage son Joe to Story Cove because she has a tale to tell, a narrative of mayhem and murder that will destroy the carefully built façade one of its residents has used to hide deep, dark secrets.  But before she is able to blow the lid off the sleepy community by exposing the monster living among them, she is murdered.

Rue Duval is a homicide detective. She realizes right away that Tom Bradley, who claims to have discovered Arwen’s body, is lying. It’s clear he didn’t simply find the dead woman while jogging on the beach in a torrential downpour. It’s also clear the two had some kind of relationship. He’s obviously hiding something. But is he covering up for himself or someone else? Rue determinedly investigates him but can’t help wondering if she is simply framing a hapless bystander, someone she wants to find guilty for personal reasons.

Domestic thrillers are quite the rage right now and I’ve read numerous novels recently with the premise of the picture-perfect family hiding appalling, terrifying secrets. This would also qualify as a suburban thriller, since Story Cove is a posh neighborhood peopled by urban professionals. I think because those two sub-genres saturate the market currently, it can be hard to write a novel that really stands out as different. The Patient’s Secret has some unique elements, but overall I found myself comparing it unfavorably to other books in the same category.

Technically, the writing is fine - the prose is smooth, the plot slightly slow in pace but cohesive, the characters are fairly well-drawn and have some nuance to them. The problem lay more in the structure and combination of these elements. Like a soup with delicious ingredients that don’t mix well together, the book has good basics that don’t blend into a pleasant whole. The tale is an odd cross between a psychological thriller and a mystery, and I found the amalgamation confusing. With a mystery, I normally find myself actively engaged in solving the puzzle. With a thriller I take a back seat approach, realizing that the explosive last few chapters are going to have a lot of revelations that will most likely put the kibosh on what I think is happening.  Here, I was caught somewhere between the two reading states of being actively engaged and passively waiting for disclosures that would guide me in the right direction. That was fairly frustrating.

Another difference between mysteries and thrillers is that mysteries tend to contain at least one or two characters to root for - decent people we want to see beat whatever challenge they are facing.  In other words, heroes. Thrillers tend to be peopled by psychos. They revolve around bad people doing bad things to each other, and it is the story of the dark dance they are engaged in that captivates the reader.  The characters in this novel are caught in the middle.  Although I have a feeling I was supposed to like and root for some of them, I found all the ‘heroes' either unethical or deeply troubled or mentally ill in a non-fascinating, semi-repulsive way.  I found the villain - who had been through some really horrible stuff - far more sympathetic than the alleged good guys. I also struggled with the fact that while having thriller elements this tale lacks a crucial ingredient - the brilliantly diabolical character. These guys are just semi-bad people fighting to maintain their mundane little lives,

Also problematic is that what happened in the past drives the story but the exploration of that event lacks detail. We read a newspaper report and get a couple of pages of updates on that essential moment, but the whole story centers around a pivotal incident that we barely examine in the text.

I have to add that I don’t think I’ve ever encountered children in a book I disliked more than Matthew and Phoebe. Matthew, by his own admission, is an eight-year-old stalker who actually takes pictures of people through their windows. Without consent. I had the rather horrifying feeling that I was watching a budding Ted Bundy. Phoebe, while a typical bratty twelve-year-old, (emphasis on the bratty) has an edge and determination to her which made me think she was capable of being very, very dangerous.

That is undoubtedly deliberate since the narrative seems to be asking the question of just how well rehabilitative psychiatry works and whether people with psychosis can be really cured. But the  discussion lacks nuisance since psychiatry right now is about managing such disorders over curing them.

This brings me to the conundrum of how to grade a book whose writing is technically good but which I personally found deeply unenjoyable. I chose a C because I think it likely other readers will have a less visceral reaction to the novel than I did but I encountered enough problems with The Patient’s Secret that I just can’t go higher than that.

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Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : C
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : March 19, 2022

Publication Date: 03/2022

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Recent Comments …

  1. What kept me reading was the sheer unpredictability of the storyline. I knew David’s and Chelsea’s paths would cross again…

Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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