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Book Review: Hidden Secrets (Secrets and Second Chances Book 2)

Hidden Secrets (Secrets and Second Chances Book 2). Donna M. Zadunajsky. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform: February 11, 2016, Trade Paperback, Kindle, Audible Audio, 301 pages.

Reviewed by David Steven Rappoport.

Hidden Secrets by Donna M. Zadunajsky seems intended to be a mystery. In its general preoccupations, the book reminds one of a film genre rather than a literary one – the woman’s picture of the 1940s and 1950s. Carla, an elementary school teacher, and her husband Tim, have a long history of trouble conceiving a child. Carla in particular is desperate to reproduce. While six months pregnant, she goes into labor. The child struggles for about a month and then dies. On the same day that the infant succumbs, her husband Tim is murdered. After his death, Carla receives Tim’s diaries – something he arranged to have delivered before his demise – and she learns several important secrets about him. There is a subplot involving an abused child in Carla’s class for whom Tim has been providing legal services. Eventually, secrets are revealed, and the novel resolves in a surprising way.

Hidden Secrets is an emotionally driven book, and this may appeal to some readers. She creates some compelling moments of heartbreak and suspense. The author has a gift for writing about children; two are central to the plot. Zadunajsky has written a number of children’s books and her sympathy towards children shines here.

However, Hidden Secrets has room for improvement. The book lacks the actual skeleton of a mystery: a precipitating murder or other crime that serves as a focal point for the narrative. As a result, the book is discursive. The discipline that a mystery demands might have benefitted the book’s structure and characterizations.

Zadunajsky has some interesting dark ideas, but doesn’t really explore them. Most of the “hidden secrets” rely on Tim’s choices, many of which are difficult to understand. Tim is a man who has kept many important secrets from his wife, and has taken at least one consequential action without her knowledge. Not only does he keep these secrets, he chooses to have his diaries delivered to his wife after his death to make sure she learns what he has done. This could be quite intriguing; imagine what Matthew Gregory Lewis or Sheridan Le Fanu or Charlotte Bronte might have made from this. But Zadunajsky does not go Gothic. She portrays Tim as an unassuming, conventional loving husband with no particular dark undercurrents. The result is that the reader is confused and unconvinced.

Carla is similarly difficult to track. A year earlier, she attempted suicide over a miscarriage, but here seems upset but quite resilient after two colossal personal tragedies that occur simultaneously as well as a series of subsequent destabilizing revelations. It seems unlikely that anyone could survive such emotional storms without major damage –particularly someone with pre-existing serious depression. Also, Carla is desperate to have a child – but resolved not to adopt. This apparent contradiction is not explored.

Donna M. Zadunajsky appears to have the instincts of a mystery writer. She is attracted to the dark side of human nature, understands the impact of a startling fact, and seems to have a facility for the slow revelation of information. The discipline of studying and then adhering to the conventions of the mystery genre – coupled with her gift for writing about children – may serve her well in a future book. 


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