Most of us keep at least some things to ourselves – things we may not even tell our partners. And that doesn’t necessarily have to be a terrible thing. We all have our private histories and thoughts. But there are some things that are actually very much better shared.
When people keep too many of the wrong secrets, it can lead to misunderstanding or worse, much of which could be prevented with an honest discussion. Of course, that can be harder to do than it is to write about. But keeping the wrong secrets can be even harder.
For example, in Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Captain Hastings goes to Styles Court, Essex, to visit his friend, John Cavendish. Cavendish lives there with his wife, Mary; his brother, Lawrence; his stepmother, Emily Inglethorp; her husband, Alfred; her ward, Cynthia Murdoch; and, her friend, Evelyn Howard. One night during Hastings’ visit, Emily Inglethorp is murdered. The Cavendish brothers do not want the police brought in, because of the potential for scandal. But they are finally persuaded to ask Hercule Poirot (who makes his début in this novel), to look into the matter. Among other things, he finds that a few of the characters have kept secrets from others that would have been better told. At the very least, it would have prevented several of the misunderstandings that impede Poirot’s investigation.
Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent features Kindle County Deputy Prosecutor Rožat ‘Rusty’ Sabich. When a colleague, Carolyn Polhemus, is murdered, Sabich’s boss, Raymond Horgan, assigns him to work on the investigation. Sabich starts the job, but he doesn’t tell his boss something important: he had a relationship with Polhemus. It ended a few months before she was murdered, but it’s still relevant. When Horgan finds out about the affair, he’s furious. He takes the case away from Sabich, and gives it to one of Sabich’s rivals, Tommy Molto. Before long, the evidence begins to suggest that Sabich might be the murderer. In fact, it’s so compelling that Sabich is arrested for the crime. He hires Alejandro ‘Sandy’ Stern to defend him and begins to try to clear his name. While it might have been a risk to admit the relationship, it’s also possible that it might have made things easier for Sabich in the long run.
We might say a similar thing about Martin Clark’s Mason Hunt, whom we meet in The Legal Limit. He’s a prosecutor for the Commonwealth of Virginia, serving Patrick County. His past comes back to haunt him when his brother, Gates, is arrested for cocaine trafficking and given a long prison term. Gates asks Mason to help get him out of prison, but Mason refuses. Then, Gates threatens that if his brother doesn’t help, he’ll implicate him in an unsolved murder. Years earlier, Mason was present when his brother shot a romantic rival. At the time, he helped Gates cover up the crime out of a sense of filial loyalty. But now, he finds himself in deep trouble when Gates threatens to tell the police it was Mason who committed the murder. When Mason refuses to help his brother, Gates follows through on his threat, and Mason finds himself accused of murder. For a time, he doesn’t share much of what’s going on with his assistant prosecutor, Custis Norman. That proves to be a mistake, as it raises up a barrier between the two men and makes it harder for Norman to help his boss. It’s not until Hunt tells Norman the truth that he can really get the benefit of his help.
Kirsten McDougall’s Tess begins as Lewis Rose is driving towards his home in the Wellington region of New Zealand’s North Island. It’s pouring down rain, and Rose notices a young woman standing by the road, getting soaked. He offers her a lift, she accepts, and he drops her off not far from a local hostel. The next day, Rose sees some thugs harassing the woman, and rescues her. He takes her to his home and offers to let her stay there. He’s got plenty of room; so, with no other better alternatives, she agrees. It’s soon clear that the young woman, who says her name is Tess, is suffering from an internal infection. Rose gets her medication, and cares for her, and she slowly begins to get better. All the time, though, she is keeping an important secret from him and from his daughter, Jean, who comes for an extended visit. That secret plays an important role in the reason Tess is more or less homeless. And it has a major impact on the family. While Tess has her reasons for not sharing that secret, it might have been easier all around if she had confided it.
Donna Morrissey’s The Fortunate Brother is the story of the Now family, who lives in the Beaches, Newfoundland. Sylvanus Now, his wife, Addie, and their son, Kyle, are still reeling from the death three years earlier of the oldest Now child, Chris. His death was accidental, but that doesn’t make it any easier to cope. It’s not any easier, either, for Kyle’s sister, Sylvie, who now lives on her own. The family really hasn’t started to heal yet, but they’re getting by as best they can. Then, a local bully named Clar Gillard is murdered. No-one in the area is sorry to have him gone; but, of course, the police have to find out who the killer is. And, little by little, they find evidence that implicates more than one member of the Now family. As the investigation goes on, the Nows have to cope with the fact that they are all under suspicion. It’s hard, but they do start to draw closer to each other. And, as the story goes on, several truths come out that might have been better told earlier. Once the air is cleared and the truth is told, the family can start the work of healing.
And that’s the thing about some secrets. We all have our private truths. But some of them really do need to be told. The alternative can be misunderstanding or worse.
*NOTE: The title of this post is the title of a song by Off With Their Heads.