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Donna Meredith Reviews “Keep No Secrets,” by Julie Compton

In Arts & Letters, Books, Fiction, Humanities, Law, Law-and-Literature, Novels, Writing on July 17, 2013 at 8:45 am

Donna Meredith is a freelance writer living in Tallahassee, Florida. She taught English, journalism, and TV production in public high schools in West Virginia and Georgia for 29 years. Donna earned a BA in Education with a double major in English and Journalism from Fairmont State College, an MS in Journalism from West Virginia University, and an EdS in English from Nova Southeastern University. She has also participated in fiction writing workshops at Florida State University and served as a newsletter editor for the Florida State Attorney General’s Office. The Glass Madonna was her first novel. It won first place for unpublished women’s fiction in the Royal Palm Literary Awards, sponsored by the Florida Writers Association, and runner up in the Gulf Coast novel writing contest. Her second novel, The Color of Lies, won the gold medal for adult fiction in 2012 from the Florida Publishers Association and also first place in unpublished women’s fiction from the Florida Writers Association. Her latest book is nonfiction, Magic in the Mountains, the amazing story of how a determined and talented woman revived the ancient art of cameo glass in the twentieth century in West Virginia.  She is currently working on a series of environmental thrillers featuring a female hydrogeologist as the lead character.

Julie Compton

Above: Julie Compton

The following review is appearing simultaneously in Southern Literary Review.

Keep No Secrets, Julie Compton’s powerful sequel to Tell No Lies, is guaranteed to keep readers turning pages into the wee hours of the morning. Both of Compton’s courtroom thrillers are set in St. Louis, Missouri, where she grew up.

Like Jodi Picoult’s best works, Compton’s novels sizzle with all the trust, betrayal, love, and forgiveness family relationships entail—especially when you expose their private conflicts in a public courtroom. Her books seem to pose this question: how well can you know even those people closest to you?

Read Tell No Lies first. Though the sequel provides enough backstory to be a great read on its own, without understanding the first book you’d miss the riveting psychological development of the primary characters, all of whom star in the sequel as well.

In Tell No Lies, idealistic lawyer Jack Hilliard leaves behind a lucrative private practice to run for district attorney. The plot centers around a high-profile murder case. Jack is easy to like because he tries so hard to do the right thing. But there wouldn’t be a story if he were perfect. He yields to one temptation, which hurls his life on a downward spiral that nearly ends his marriage and his career.

The final plot twist leaves you wondering if Jack has been manipulated. Compton is that rare author who trusts her readers’ intelligence. She allows us to figure things out for ourselves, to experience the same doubts as Jack Hilliard. It makes the novel more like our own lives, where we can’t always tell what people’s motives are or know when they are lying.

Keep No Secrets begins four and a half years after the events of Tell No Lies. During that time, Jack Hilliard has worked arduously to repair the damage caused by his mistakes—and has largely succeeded. Until the night he finds his teenage son Michael having sex with his girlfriend. They are drunk. Being a white knight kind of guy, Jack gives the girl a ride home. In an effort to win back his son’s love and respect, Jack doesn’t tell his wife about Michael’s transgressions. That car ride sets off an unforeseeable chain of events that threaten to wreck Jack’s career and marriage once again.

Think that’s enough dirt to dump on a nice guy like Jack? Not a chance. The already untenable situation deteriorates further when Jenny Dodson, the woman involved in his earlier downfall, reappears after all these years, asking for his help. He can’t say no, but he vows to keep his wife truthfully informed of everything that happens. He does. Sort of. “The lies aren’t what he says; they’re what he doesn’t say”—this is a refrain Compton artfully employs several times.

This novel deals with social issues like the impact of adultery and sexual assault on families. Most readers are going to put themselves in the various characters’ situations and ask themselves if they would have behaved differently. Would we lie to protect a loved one? What if you knew something that would put the one you love in jail or in danger? Would you tell the truth? What if not telling keeps an innocent person imprisoned? How far should we trust the legal system? If a spouse gave us reason to doubt, could we forgive and trust again? When is it time to give a marriage another chance—and when is it time to walk away?

Compton’s novels are as fine as any courtroom thrillers out there. Though her use of present tense can be a bit distracting, the well-plotted series sparkles with psychologically complex characters.

For both undergraduate work and law school, Compton attended Washington University in Missouri. She began her legal career there, but last practiced in Wilmington, Delaware, as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice. She now lives near Orlando with her husband and two daughters and writes full-time. She is also the author of Rescuing Olivia, a novel of suspense, romance, and family drama.

Below: Donna Meredith

Donna Meredith

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