Posted by: chartroose | June 15, 2009

The Secret Keeper

Paul Harris, 2009, 318 p.

In 2005/2006, while my Mother was in end-stage Alzheimer’s, Dad hired some home care workers to help with the day-to-day caregiving.  Most of Mom’s home health aides were originally from Africa, and one of them was from Sierra Leone.  J___ was such a kind-hearted person; the day after Mom died, she stopped by and sat in our kitchen and wept.  She was genuinely concerned about Dad’s well-being, and it was so touching and special to share our grief with this beautiful woman.  Now, in retrospect, I wonder if a few of those tears were for herself and her family.  J___ had always been close-mouthed about her experiences in Sierra Leone, but I know she was haunted by memories of the recent war that had destroyed so much of what was good about her country.  I also know that she was very concerned about the surviving members of her poverty-stricken family, and was working very hard to help some of them make it to the U. S.

I’m enormously pleased I was asked by TLC Book Tours to read and review a novel about Sierra Leone, because of J___ and also because The Secret Keeper is the type of novel that is right up my alley.  The book is chock-full of intrigue and action, it has a well-developed plot and characterizations, and it left me wanting to learn more about the place and its people.

Here’s a quick synopsis:  Danny Kellerman is a British journalist who is tormented by memories of his experiences as a correspondent in Sierra Leone during the civil war.  His ex-girlfriend is killed in a suspicious “roadside robbery,” and Danny travels back to the place that has haunted his dreams for so long to try solve the mystery of her death.  Things do not go well for him, and…  That’s all I’m going to say about the plot, because I don’t want to give it all away!

Paul Harris was a correspondent in Sierra Leone during the conflict, so I’m pretty sure he drew from some of his own experiences while writing The Secret Keeper.  I’m glad he wrote about a subject that must be near and dear to him because it shows.  It’s obvious that his knowledge of the subject added extra depth and moral complexity to this novel.   It’s obvious, too, that he has been a writer all his life.  This doesn’t even seem like a first novel.  If I didn’t know better, I’d think that The Secret Keeper is one of several or many great novels written by Paul Harris.


Knowing J___ for the brief period that I did, and knowing that things are often not as good as they appear, I decided to try to find out a bit more about the current state of Sierra Leone.  SL is still struggling to pull itself out of the abyss.  Several human rights groups have recently reported that poverty is as bad as ever, and many children, some as young as 10, are still being used for slave labor in the diamond mines.  {Sigh}  They are often abused, they receive little to no medical care or schooling, and they usually work for over 12 hours a day.  Child soldiers may be gone, but the children still suffer.

It’s such a dilemma–if we boycott diamonds, then familes will starve even more.  If we don’t boycott, these terrible abuses will continue to occur.  We should make Sierra Leone a “do-over” –move everyone out, clean up the mess, and start over again from scratch.  We should do the same with Texas, too ( =  


Here are some photos of Sierra Leone, past and present:




I don’t know which are worse, the pictures of happy people or the sad photos.  They all make my heart hurt.



  1. This sounds like a really wonderful novel, Chartroose. It is a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation.

    The one thing that makes me happy to be human is that even in the midst of great suffering we are able to find joy in things – little or big. That’s what all of those pictures say to me. Where there is life, there will always be hope. Now let’s work somehow on helping them realize their hopes.

    BTW, thanks for the eye candy thrown in to the mix. David Beckham wasn’t lost on me. LOL!

  2. I also thought that this was a fantastic book. The writing was very well done – you’re right, it doesn’t seem at all like a first novel.

  3. Yes, Jen, look at those abs! Dude!!!

    Heather — I hope he’ll write some more novels.

  4. For some reason I can’t see the first two pics in the series of pics at the end of your post (?) Technical difficulties on my end, I’m sure.

    Obviously I had no idea of your personal connection to someone from Sierra Leone when I approached you about this book but I’m very glad you enjoyed it, and I’m so appreciative of the time you spent on reading and reviewing it. Thanks so much. You’re the Koolest 🙂

  5. This sounds so neat!

    My group and I did a project on Sierra Leone for our refugee class. Have you seen the documentary Sierra Leone All Star Refugees? It’s about a band that originated in the camps, and it’s really good. Most of West Africa breaks my heart. 😦 (I took a class on WA politics.)

  6. Oh, Chartroose, some of those photos just made me feel sick to my stomach. I wish we could cure the world of all its injustices. Oh, the book sounds good, too.

  7. I’m putting this on m tbr. This was a terrific heartfelt review.

  8. Isn’t it great when you find a book you can relate to on a personal level like that? It is so overwhelming when you start looking into the problems of a place. It always seems so easy to fix their problems on the surface of things, but then you have to examine the problems that the fix would produce, as you said.

  9. Sounds great. It’s interesting to me that Harris would chose to write fiction when he so clearly knows enough to write about his own experiences there. I usually like nonfiction of this type better than fiction, but this book sounds intriguing.

  10. How hearbreaking. It always adds something when you have a personal connection, doesn’t it? Too bad we can’t have do-overs. The world would probably be so much better (depending on who did the do-over).

  11. I really really enjoyed this book as well. Thanks for such a thoughtful post.

  12. I really enjoyed this novel as well and it opened my eyes to a lot of the things you don’t see on the news here in the U.S. about these African and other nations after the civil unrest, etc. I think there is more to be done to help these nations.

    I applaud Harris for his keen vision in using fiction to educate us about these places.

  13. I thought this novel was great. Thanks for your wonderful review.

  14. This sounds great. I prefer to read fiction based on fact rather than straight non-fiction ;o), so this is perfect for me. I’m also trying to complete my Around the World in 80 Books Challenge and this will fit right in. I’ll have to pick it up soon. Thanks for the review and I really enjoyed hearing about your personal connection to it ;o).

  15. I’ve been enjoying learning more about Africa through my travels and reading fiction. I am not a big fan of diamonds myself so I don’t own any. I know that the economic crisis has hit the miners in Africa and the polishers in India hard. There never is a simple solution is there?

  16. I really enjoyed your post for this book. I’m sure the connection made it just that much better.

    I hope you are getting destressed during your blogging break!

  17. Just wanted you to know that you’re missed. No rush on coming back, take your time, but when you’re ready, we’re ready for you. 🙂

  18. I love the name of your blog! I am now going to become a follower. Can’t wait to read some more.

  19. […] Monday, June 15th:  Bloody Hell, it’s a Book Barrage! […]

  20. […] Bloody Hell, It’s a Book Barrage […]

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