The Last Secret
Barnes & Noble
Published by: Crown
Sometimes the worst nightmares do come true. One woman’s shameful secret threatens to undermine her privileged and carefully tended life of principle and responsibility.
Nora Hammond seems to have the perfect life, a charming husband, two bright teenaged children, an esteemed role in the charitable organizations of her New England town, even a nationally reported commendation from the president of the United States for her faith-based work at Sojourn House, a shelter for abused women and their children. But her comfortable existence begins to unravel when she learns of her husband Ken’s long affair—and also when the specter of a sordid incident from her youth returns with terrifying force. Confronted by shame and betrayal, Nora finds herself stalked by a man she desperately fears. Because she cannot admit the truth about herself to a single soul, there is no one who can help her.
Nora feels betrayed by her much-admired husband, their close circle of “dear” old friends, and worse, even her children, vivacious Chloe and sensitive Drew. Nora must walk a precarious tightrope between exposure and holding her family together. She becomes easy prey to the deadly ghost from her past, Eddie Hawkins, a relentless and cunning sociopath.
Almost as devastating for Nora as Ken’s affair is the revelation of her best friend’s duplicity. Robin and Bob Gendron and their children have been like family to the Hammonds. Through the years, they’ve vacationed and partied together and deeply cared for one another. But now that Nora is confronted with the depth of her blind and foolish trust, she must ask if the reason she did not know the truth was because she chose not to.
The Last Secret is told both by Nora Hammond and by Eddie Hawkins. All these years later Eddie is beat-up and desperate for a new start. And, he is a cold, calculating killer. He sees prosperous Nora Hammond as his ticket to the good life. However, in the process, he will be as easily consumed by Robin Gendron’s genuine kindness and affection as everyone else who has ever known her. But this, like all of Eddie’s obsessions, will threaten everyone with a violence none could have imagined.
A tautly told tale of psychological tension, The Last Secret accelerates to a shattering conclusion as it explores the irreparable consequences of two families’ dangerous secrets.Add on Goodreads
“Keeping secrets leads to calamitous consequences in Morris’s disturbing domestic thriller. Morris (The Lost Mother) knocks over a domino chain of events that...confirm the importance of comprehending past mistakes to avoid future ones.”
“Morris, a PEN/Faulkner finalist (Vanished) and Oprah Book Club author (Songs in Ordinary Time), here offers a...plotline that develops into a memorable, cinematic novel through strong portrayals of complex personalities....As suspense builds, Morris adds context and depth by carefully revealing inner lives dominated by deception and loneliness, creating empathy for a variety of flawed characters, including even monstrous Eddie.”
The Last Secret came to me many years ago when I heard the song “Gimme Some Lovin’” playing on the radio. It wasn't the first time I’d heard the song, and yet in that particular moment it evoked an unforgettable image. Along with its hard-driving, relentless beat came a terrified teenage girl running through the heat of a desert night alongside a freight train. On the other side of the turning wheels and the gaps between trains could be seen a speeding car, its deadly driver, like the train, an unstoppable, unfeeling force.
My own heart pounding, I quickly wrote the book’s first scene, then set it aside to continue working on whatever book I was writing at the time. From time to time through the years I would remember that feeling of fearful, almost paralyzing flight, and I knew I had to get back to that girl in the desert, and also to the man who’d tried to prostitute her in the seedy bar in the middle of nowhere. At that point I only knew the two characters’ names and what had happened. When I finally began to write The Last Secret, all the characters came quickly and easily, each with their own stories and complicated backgrounds. It would continue to be the two original characters from my strange reverie, Nora and Eddie, who would fascinate me the most.
Nora Hammond was such a well-developed and genuine person that I felt I understood her on practically every level. I knew precisely why she would push such an ugly incident from her thoughts only to have it rise up, often unbidden, from her subconscious into her dreams and daily fears and insecurities. Living under the shadow of guilt had become a way of life for Nora, her regret and self-reproach undermining all her charitable work. She always understood the wrong she had done, first to her widowed mother, then, later, on that fateful night in the desert. As with so many people who have never gotten past such long-ago wounds, Nora’s guilt has undermined a lifetime of good work.
Eddie Hawkins represents both the heinous face of evil and the banal. He is as vile as he is attractive, a reprehensible and irresistible force that walks easily among us. In Lance Morrow’s fascinating study, entitled Evil: An Investigation, he writes, “Evil is a seepage across borders, across great distances.” And so when Eddie Hawkins comes to Nora's office and tells her that all he wants in life is a chance, she asks what he means. For me, his answer speaks to this very insidious nature of evil.
Eddie says, “It's like, you know, when you cut your fingernails and you flush the pieces down the toilet, I think about that. I like that feeling. Parts of me, like, floating into streams and rivers, the ocean. Feeding something. Fish maybe, then people. Like something organic. Life. The ongoing process. You know what I mean? Some kind of cycle.”
His intensity makes her shiver.
“Regeneration!” he says suddenly. “That’s what I mean!”
Another intention of mine was to examine the dissolution of a marriage and the tragedy of decent people torn apart by their conflicting passions and weaknesses. Ken Hammond would just as soon have gone on forever, safe in his marriage and family, while all the while loving his childhood sweetheart, sweet and well-meaning Robin Gendron. But Robin can no longer live the lie that is their affair. Her secret has become too much to bear.
When Eddie Hawkins is naturally drawn into this nest of lies, everything will come undone.
Another aspect of The Last Secret that intrigued me was the charity, Sojourn House, run by the gentle, but pragmatic priest, Father Grewley, who arranges to have Alice, victim of an abusive marriage, mentored by Nora. Now that I look back on it, Alice’s sad experience seems almost a counterpoint to Nora’s painful, though never physically violent marriage. Interestingly, it is Nora who entertains thoughts of harming Ken.
The nature of giving and generosity was also part of my focus, particularly as practiced by someone as guilt-ridden as Nora Hammond. Because she feels so tainted, so unworthy of true goodness, she constantly questions not only her own motives for charitable acts, but everyone else’s as well.
As in each of my novels, there are no easy explanations for their beginnings. While some seeds never sprout enough to reach the light at all, others must lie dormant until it is their time.