Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
by Jaye Ford
ISBN 9781742756776, Paperback, 2013
I’ve never been a fan of thrillers. I just don’t have the stomach for blood, gore and gruesome scenes. Don’t let Jaye Ford’s scary titles fool you. Though there is certainly suspense and frightening scenes, Jaye Ford’s books are psychological, character-driven fiction. Her work might be more akin to the ‘cosy mystery’ genre than to the thriller genre as there is very little that is gruesome in her books, and the scenes unfold organically in a way that is very natural and smooth. In Ford’s latest novel, Blood Secret, the blood doesn’t refer so much to spilled blood, as to the genetic blood – as in blood ties. Rennie Carter has blood secrets, and she keeps them secret for a long time, living her life from day to day, and town to town, until she finds herself settling into life in sleepy Haven Bay with Max Tully. Then one day Max disappears and in Rennie’s attempts to find him, she has to uncover and unmask her own secrets, redefining who she is and what she needs in her life.
Blood Secret is, in many ways, Rennie’s journey. Her character develops along with the rest of the characters as they build, grow and challenge themselves through the mystery they find themselves embroiled in. Though the novel is very fast paced, with the suspenseful plot of “what happened to Max” driving the narrative, there is much more happening through the transition. As Rennie grows, she has to learn about different aspects of families and family life, along with Max’s surly teen son Hayden, the local community group, and Max himself. This fiction is all about the development of the characters as they move through their personal journeys, but it’s no less racy for that. Action builds through suspense in a way that leaves the reader breathless:
A whisper of sound reached her from over the fence and she was moving before her brain had time to decipher it – fast, bent, diving for the hedge. She hit the ground on her hip, rolled to a crouch, ready to run. Wanting to. Telling herself to wait. Wait, for God’s sake. It might be Max. She slide her eyes along the garden and the fence, sweat prickling in her hair, panic grappling for a hold. (49)
The narrative swaps between the perspective of Rennie and the perspective of Max, building the story in brief glimpses between these two characters, who, in many ways, are searching for one another. From start to finish, the writing remains taut and powerful. Ford rarely slows the pace with overt description, but the scene setting is done brilliantly through the eyes of the characters, combined with action:
A cry pitched from his throat and the hollow echo that ricocheted back made panic buck inside him. Eyes bursting open, he blinked fast, hard. It didn’t help. There was nothing there. Just black. Dense, suffocating black. (177)
Blood Secret is one of those books that is hard to put down, so it’s just as well that it can be read quickly in a single sitting. The characters are quirky and engrossing, and their unfolding story moves from one exciting cliff-hanger or moment of suspense to another. While the novel is undemanding and easy to read, the story is rich in verisimilitude and intensity, bringing into play a very rich and informed understanding of the complexities of love and families, and creating a work that is as moving as it is fun.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball is the author of the novels Black Cow and Sleep Before Evening, the poetry books Repulsion Thrust and Quark Soup, a nonfiction book The Art of Assessment, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Sublime Planet, Deeper Into the Pond, Blooming Red, Cherished Pulse, She Wore Emerald Then, and Imagining the Future. She also runs a radio show, The Compulsive Reader Talks and Paul W Newman is her next guest. Find out more about Magdalena at www.magdalenaball.com.