The discovery of a shipwreck off the coast of Whitehaven brings a marine archaeologist to the town to uncover its secrets. Rachel has personal and relationship issues following the death of her father when she was only 12 and this has had a serious impact on her own marriage and her relationship with her mother. During her visit it becomes clear that her mother’s health is deteriorating due to dementia.
Meanwhile, in a second timeline set in Whitehaven in the 1760s, Abigail marries a man who gets involved in the slave trade to combat his mounting debts but she begins to question the morality of slavery. He brings her a young slave to train as a maid but she soon develops a strong affection for the girl which contravenes the standards and rules of the era.
The Widow’s Secret is a hugely emotional book to read. Both timelines are completely captivating and are written convincingly. The title could be referring to secrets held by Rachel’s mother or Abigail so is clever for having multiple interpretations.
I felt a great deal of sympathy with Rachel whose relationships are so fraught. She is desperate to give and receive love but is afraid of rejection. Abigail is thrilled to have found happiness after her reputation was destroyed by the inappropriate behaviour of a man, so she really battles with her conscience when her new husband becomes involved in the slave trade.
Swartz doesn’t shy away from the ethical angle and the horrendous attitudes of the time that resulted in the appalling treatment of other humans. This was unconfortable at times which is quite right when considering the atrocities which were perpetrated according to race. We are also introduced to John Wesley, the founder of the Methodists, which is a good plot device to allow Abigail to do some soul-searching. I think some comment on women’s roles could also be extrapolated from the events in the book, such as the sacrosanct honour of unwed women and the requirement for emotional management within a family context for both Abigail and Rachel.
The narrative is told through the third person with an emphasis on the viewpoint of the two main female characters. Although we discover the truth about the shipwreck and Rachel finds out about Abigail so we get a conclusion to their story, I would have liked further exploration of the wreckage or more of Adedayo’s story to have been included.
The Widow’s Secret was a hugely enjoyable book to read, despite the serious subject matter and uncomfortable history it conveys.
Marine archaeologist Rachel Gardener is thrilled to be summoned to the coast of Cumbria to investigate a newly discovered shipwreck. She is also relieved to escape the tensions of her troubled marriage, and to be closer to her ailing mother. Yet the past rises up and confronts Rachel, as seeing her mother surfaces hidden childhood hurts.
When the mysteriously sunken ship is discovered to be a slaving ship from the 1700s, Rachel is determined to explore the town of Whitehaven’s link to the slave trade. Soon she learns of Abigail Fenton, the young wife of a slave trader, who has a surprising secret of her own, lost to the ages. The more Rachel learns about Abigail, the more she wonders if the past can inform the present… Perhaps Rachel can learn from Abigail and break free from her troubled history, and embrace the future she longs to claim for her own?
About the author
After spending three years as a diehard New Yorker, Katharine Swartz now lives in the Lake District with her husband, an Anglican minister, their five children, and a Golden Retriever. She enjoys such novel things as long country walks and chatting with people in the street, and her children love the freedom of village life—although she often has to ring four or five people to figure out where they’ve gone off to!
She writes women’s fiction as well as contemporary romance for Mills & Boon Modern under the name Kate Hewitt, and whatever the genre she enjoys delivering a compelling and intensely emotional story. Find out more about her books at www.katharineswartz.com or https://www.kate-hewitt.com/