Paul Harris is a British journalist, and The Secret Keeper, according to the author blurb, is his debut novel. It’s a good one.
The story, set in twenty-first century Sierra Leone, follows journalist Danny Kellerman as he attempts to discover the reasons behind a letter from his former girlfriend:
I need you. I’m in trouble. I know it’s been too long. I’m sorry. It’s my fault and I hope you forgive me. I can’t use the phones or email to ask you this. They are not safe. I need you to come to Freetown to help me. I’ll explain it all then.
All my love as ever,
When Danny receives Maria’s letter, he’s immediately drawn back into thoughts of his previous stay in Freetown, Sierra Leone, four years earlier. And he remembers Maria, the beautiful American aid worker whose life’s work was to rescue and rehabilitate the child soldiers of the RUF (Revolutionary United Front).
Since the novel is set in a still violent and unsettled Sierra Leone, where people are trying to forget the past as much as deal with it, there is a lot of nasty violence in the book. There are also way too many f-bombs. However, I chose to ignore these issues because I’m quite interested in Africa, and particularly in Sierra Leone. I have a young friend who left that country as a boy over ten years ago, and who was severely injured in the violence that engulfed Sierra Leone in the 1990’s. My friend, E., survived; many young boys who would be his age now did not.
I learned some things from this novel that I did not know before:
Sierra Leone is rich in diamonds, and in fact, much of the war there was fueled and financed by the diamond mines. I sort had an impression that diamonds had something to do with the trouble in Sierra Leone, but the book and other stuff I read online clarified that connection.
Many of the diamond mines used to be operated by Lebanese businessmen. The Lebanese have been immigrating to Sierra Leone since the late 1800’s, and by the mid-twentieth century many of them had become rich and powerful as traders, particularly traders of diamonds, both legally and illegally.
The RUF army was brutal. The leaders of the army recruited children, ages seven to twelve, and often forced them to murder their parents and other family members. They also had a “tradition” of amputating hands, arms, and legs of captured soldiers and of civilians. However, they were non-ideological, espousing neither Marxism nor fascist nationalism nor any other real ideology. They seemingly thrived on pure evil and violence and a desire for power.
The war in Sierra Leone is estimated to have cost the lives of 200,000 people, with countless wounded.
The Secret Keeper was a disturbing spy-novel look at a modern day atrocity. The book was originally recommended to me by SuziQOregon at Whimpulsive.