Book review: The Secret Woman–Victoria Holt


Khidki (Window)

–Read India Initiative—

This is only an attempt to create interest in reading. We may not get the time to read all the books in our lifetime. But such reviews, talk and synopsis will at least convey what the book is all about.



   Pseudonym: Victoria Holt

    The Secret Woman is a Gothic romance (mysteries, often involving the supernatural heavily tinged with horror, and they were usually set against dark backgrounds of medieval ruins and even haunted castles) and suspense novel written by English author Eleanor Hibbert under the pseudonym Victoria Holt. It was originally published in 1970 and is considered to be a bestseller. Set in 1887, it chronicles Anna Brett’s scandalous romance with a married ship captain Redvers Stretton. As they sail across the South Seas, tensions build up, among Anna, Redvers, and everyone else on-board ‘The Serene Lady.’ It is a mystery involving murder, destruction of ship called The Secret Woman, where, the missing fortune of diamonds begins to unravel.

    The first edition of The Secret Woman was published in the United States in 1970 by Doubleday & Company Inc., in New York. Since its initial release, several other versions of it have also been made. The most recent publication was done by Sourcebooks Casablanca Inc., in Naperville, Illinois in 2014.

    The Secret Woman is considered a bestseller of 1970, along with Erich Segal’s Love Story and John Fowles’ The French Lietenant’s Woman. The book’s success was a likelihood but it was also bolstered by the success of Hibbert’s previous novels such as ‘Mistress of Mellyn’ and ‘The Shivering Sands.’ The positive reception of these works eventually gave Hibbert the title of “Queen of Romantic Suspense” driving the sales of Victoria Holt novels to over 56 million copies worldwide.

    The main characters of this novel are:

    Anna Brett – narrator and protagonist in her late 20s. Heiress to Charlotte Brett’s antique business and governess to Redvers Stretton’s son, Edward.

    Charlotte Brett – Anna’s spinster aunt, who runs an antique business out of the Queen’s House.

    Redvers Stretton – is a sailor, captain of The Secret Woman and The Serene Lady, and happens to be Anna’s love interest.

    Chantel Loman – Charlotte Monique’s nurse; and Anna’s closest friend.

    Rex Crediton – Redvers’ half-brother, and heir to Lady Crediton’s business and riches and Chantel’s love interest.

    Monique Stretton – Redvers’ wife and Edward’s mother; a native of the island of Coralle.

    Anna Brett was born in India, due to her father being in the Indian Army. But when she was about eight years old her parents moved her to live in Langmouth, England with her Aunt Charlotte into what is referred to as the Queen’s House. While in Langmouth, Anna was educated and began to learn the ways of Aunt Charlotte’s antique business as she grew up.

Central theme

    On one autumn night, a sailor named Redvers Stretton comes to see Anna and their romantic interest in each other starts to grow from there. As Aunt Charlotte grows older and weaker, she hires a nurse, Chantel Loman, to look after her. Chantel seems to brighten up the otherwise dreary Queen’s House and quickly becomes close friends with Anna. Then one morning, Chantel finds Charlotte dead from an opium tablet overdose. And, because she would have benefited from Charlotte’s death, people suspect Anna of killing her aunt, but Chantel successfully defends her and the death is declared a suicide. Thereafter, Chantel takes up a job at the nearby Castle Crediton, caring for Monique Stretton, wife of Redvers that Anna had not previously known about. Anna discovers she has inherited serious debts from Aunt Charlotte and decides to sell her antique furniture and even rent out the Queen’s House. During her time at the castle, Chantel and Rex Crediton, Redvers’ half-brother, begin spending a lot of time together. She finds out that Rex and Monique are going to sail on Redvers’ ship ‘The Serene Lady’ to Australia and Monique’s home island of Coralle. In the meanwhile Chantel helps Anna to get hired, as Edward’s governess who is Redver’s son.

    During the voyage, Edward is drugged. Anna suspects someone on board is planning to throw him overboard, but most of the passengers assume, it is just a prank. Once the ship arrives on the island of Coralle, Redver declares his love to Anna and gives her a letter asking for her to wait, to be with him just before he departs.

    There is an increasing sense of tension and doom during Anna and Chantel’s two-month long stay on the island; Monique grows more and more distraught and angry over the thought that Redver her husband doesn’t love her, and Anna finds out that Chantel had married Rex before they set sail. Upon The Serene Lady’s return, Chantel gives Anna a long letter explaining that she had been plotting to take over Castle Crediton and that she was in fact responsible for Aunt Charlotte’s death. For Chantel and Rex to inherit the castle and the family riches, both Redver and Edward would have to be dead, so Chantel had drugged Edward on the ship in an attempt to kill him, but the plan failed. Then, in Coralle Island, Chantel had poisoned some coffee that Monique was going to give to Redver her husband in order to frame his wife for his murder, but Chantel accidentally drinks the coffee herself and dies.

    Anna returns to England and continues to be Edward’s governess until he starts attending school. She then returns to the Queen’s House where one of her maids, informs her, that Monique in fact had died in the island of Coralle only. Redver returns to England so that he and Anna can finally begin their life together.

    It’s an old book but well written and I would give it seven out of ten.

By Kamlesh Tripathi



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