Secret of the Song

Written by Cathie Hartigan
Review by Nick Brown

Secret of the Song is a romantic thriller split between a modern setting in England and 16th century Italy. The key to the plot is the mysterious manuscript of a song by Carlo Gesualdo, the late Renaissance composer. This is a manuscript with a strange history unearthed in Exeter museum, which comes into the possession of Lisa, a talented musician and single mother.

It is worth pointing out that a great deal of the integrity and credibility of the story is based on Cathie Hartigan’s knowledge of the music of the period, and her use of the material enhances the enjoyment of the narrative.

To continue in a musical vein, the modern plot has its counterpart in 16th-century Italy, where Silvia Albana, a skilled seamstress, is taken into the household of the reputedly mad and sinister composer, Gesualdo. The two stories are relayed in parallel, which is a tricky device to pull off as attention can be constantly diverted, but here it works well.

The manuscript and the experiences of the two young women are at the heart of the story, but to say more would give away too much. Suffice to say, the dark secret of the song manuscript and the inescapable legacy of the past impart an almost supernatural thrill to the story.

Hartigan writes well about both periods and creates a suitably menacing atmosphere that broods over the narrative, heightening suspense. She also creates splendidly unlikeable characters, such as Lisa’s talented and slightly ‘vampy’ love rival, Daniela. In fact, my only slight criticism is that the darker characters engaged attention far more than did the two heroines, and maybe a bit more of the former and less of the latter would have increased the drama?