Secret Sins

Written by Jeannie Johnson
Review by Geoffrey Harfield

In war-torn 1940s Bristol, England, Mary Anne’s pawnshop home is burnt down while her son and daughter are in the forces. She leaves her rotter of a husband to live with Michael, the pawnshop’s new owner. From then on this book is concerned with the problems and heartaches of adultery, illicit love, pregnancy and adoption.

An enigmatic character wanders in and out to puzzle the reader. His presence is only explained at the end, but it’s worth it. The long denouement is handled very well. Five disparate and well-drawn characters argue and fight outside a Red Cross shop after a long lost child appears. Very Coronation Street!

On the down side I was worried by the lack of careful editing and holes in the story. There were many anachronisms, too. One must remember this is set firmly in 1941. For example, the Salvation Army would not be called a ‘registered charity’ nor its admirable home shown as a stereotypical, dreary, uncaring institution. The WRVS was also mentioned. The Women’s Voluntary Service only became ‘Royal’ after the war, honouring it for services given. The story is pervaded by lovemaking, but there is a total lack of any concept of marital love or fidelity. If romance is about love, it is about married love too.

On the plus side, a most perceptive observation of characters is evident; they are well drawn and believable, some even forgiving and loyal. There are excellent wartime scenes of the gritty devastation and personal tragedies of war. The ending is a satisfying rounding-up of all the issues.