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The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes caught my eye first based on the cover and then on the back blurb, six sentences promising the suspenseful story of the abduction and subsequent disappearance of a pregnant woman named Genevieve Russell, the the trial of her supposed murderer, and the one woman who knows the true story of what happened the night Russell disappeared.

But blurbs can be misleading, and in many ways, Diane Chamberlin's novel is nothing like the paragraphs on the back cover. Starting in the present and then jumping back to 1977, The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes tells the tale of CeeCee, a sixteen year old girl on her own, who is seduced and charmed by an older man into helping he and his brother with an illegal and dangerous kidnapping scheme. When the plan goes horribly wrong, CeeCee must give up her identity and take Russell's baby with her into hiding, raising the girl as her own. But the past, however far she's attempted to bury it, catches up with her when Russell's remains are discovered years later.

The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes had great potential as a novel to be thrilling, heart-breaking, and compelling. The unfortunate truth is that it doesn't quite live up to expectations.

On the surface, the book has many of the elements you would expect a book billed as a gentle thriller to have: conflict, illegal activities, secret plans, murder, and a woman caught up in it all, but Chamberlin loses the plot somewhere after the first third of the book. CeeCee goes into hiding and suddenly the story is less a murder mystery and more a trite family drama, going through the years of CeeCee's life after the Russell kidnapping. The narrative lags in the middle, so detatched from the original plot that it's easy to forget the exciting, harrowing events CeeCee experiences in the first third of the book.

CeeCee herself is irksome as a character as well. Billed as strong and independent in the beginning of the book, she's very inconsistently written and by halfway through, is immature, whiny, and just completely grating. Wracked with guilt and inner turmoil, she angsts like a teenager for vast sections of the story without the angst developing her into a better person. Cory, another main character, is not much better, and the rest of CeeCee's immediate family consists of cookie-cutter characters who never feel completely authentic. In fact, the only characters who feel like independent human beings are a hippie couple featured in fewer than a hundred pages of CeeCee's adventure.

Overall, it was a quick read and probably appropriate for a summer vacation, but it lacked the depth and the real edge I prefer in my fiction, feeling instead like a fluffy journey that never quite went as far as the ticket for admission promised.


the forest-dweller

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