Backstory

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.