The Secrets She Carried

Written by Barbara Davis
Review by Sarah Johnson

Barbara Davis’ debut opens with an attention-grabbing prologue. In 1940, Henry Gavin, owner of a large North Carolina tobacco plantation, brings his daughter Maggie to see the final resting place of his wife’s maid, Adele, who was buried high on a distant ridge. Speaking from beyond the grave, Adele sorrowfully tells readers she was Maggie’s real mother but that Henry’s wife raised Maggie as her own. With this big secret revealed up front, how many surprises can the narrative hold? Quite a few, as it happens. This compulsively readable saga spans five generations of women and presents new mysteries at every turn.

In 2013, Leslie Nichols returns to her Carolina hometown after thirty years’ absence. Her grandmother Maggie had died a year earlier, and Leslie needs to claim her inheritance at last. She clashes at first with Maggie’s caretaker and friend, the ruggedly handsome Jay Davenport, who was left the other half of Peak Plantation. Fortunately, Leslie sheds her big city arrogance quickly and agrees to partner with Jay in his winemaking venture. As their romance develops, Leslie combs through old papers and photos, including one of a mysterious grave, and becomes consumed by uncovering old secrets. In scenes set back in the ´30s, Adele reveals her difficult role as a companion to Susanne Gavin, an insufferable snob despondent after multiple miscarriages, and her love for Susanne’s morally upright husband, Henry.

Davis has a gift for developing flawed characters and their emotionally wrenching dilemmas. The small-town setting, full of gossip and prejudice in the Depression years, feels realistic. In laying the past to rest, Leslie must also address the problem of her drug-addict father, whose role in her mother’s death was never explained. All of these elements are woven into a very satisfying tale, but one loose thread is left dangling. A sequel would be welcome.