REVIEW: Secrets Between Friends by Fiona Palmer

In brief: Abbie, Ricki and Jess have been best friends for a long time. But on a cruise meant to celebrate their friendship, all the secrets they are hiding from each other come out…

The good: Never a dull moment.

The not-so-good: I felt that the secrets and how they were linked just got a bit too much at times for me – my head got scrambled!

Why I chose it: Have been reading Fiona Palmer’s books for years – thanks to Hachette for the copy.

Year: 2017

Pages: 350

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Setting: Western Australia

Rating: 7 out of 10

I’ve enjoyed Fiona Palmer’s rural romance stories for many years now and I was excited to hear that she was writing a new novel, Secrets Between Friends, which was contemporary fiction. It’s still set in Western Australia, but this time the reader ventures off from the city on a cruise to the south of the state. We follow three women who are best friends and one man as a holiday cruise turns to drama on the high seas. The story is interesting (who doesn’t love a story on a cruise ship?) but I failed to connect deeply with the characters and the twisted complications of their secrets wore me out at times.

There are three main characters in Secrets Between Friends and each chapter is told from one of their points of view. Abbie is the one who the other girls think has it all – career and boyfriend all sorted. But Abbie’s boss is a nightmare and her boyfriend has been having an affair for some time. In quick succession, she’s left alone without a job. Then a visit to the GP becomes tests and surgical procedures, with bad news. Nevertheless, Abbie keeps it to herself and joins the cruise. Ricki is a nurse who is in a relationship with Peter, but her dreams don’t coincide with his. A liaison with a fellow nurse off to explore the world has her wondering what her next move should be. Finally, Jess is a single mum and teacher. She’s best friends with Peter (yes, Ricki’s Peter) who knows the secrets of her childhood. But as Peter announces his plans to propose to Ricki, Jess is determined to cut herself off from the man she loves.

So it is three unsettled characters that set sail on the Pacific Eden with Peter. This is where the drama starts as the secrets become open knowledge when combined with alcohol, hurt feelings and everything else. The narrative here is really, really action packed with a twist in the plot here, a turn here and a blind corner over there. I did find it exhausting at times, having to work out who knew which secrets and which ones were yet to unfold (plus who was still speaking to who). I felt that Ricki, Peter and Jess were not at their best as characters here. Jess was too insipid at times, willing to play the victim and not get in there and grab what was hers. Peter…well, at times I didn’t know why he had the hearts of Ricki and Jess. He seemed to dither in the middle, taking whatever he could get and not making any choices. Abbie hung around being moody, but after the cruise it was her character that really shone. Perhaps it’s because she was the one who had deep, life-changing problems or maybe it was because the others grew up and stopped squabbling. Post cruise, Secrets Between Friends is poignant, mature and stylish. Even though the plot is not the happiest, it was my favourite part of the book. Here, Fiona Palmer really shone in her exploration of Abbie’s motivations, choices and growth, creating the perfect ending for her. I can’t say that I was too bothered about the other characters as they were quite immature!

Even though Secrets Between Friends isn’t my favourite Fiona Palmer book, I’ll still eagerly pick up what she writes. The last part of Secrets Between Friends shows she has the power to create a strong character and a tear-jerking story.

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