Cover Image: A Secret About a Secret

A Secret About a Secret

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Member Reviews

Interesting and well written I just personally couldn’t get into the story. Just a little slow and unbelievable at some points. I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.
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Fast and fun mystery thriller with a gothic atmosphere.

A very powerful and secretive government agency, Standard Division, sends Agent Myles to a remote research facility when one of their scientists is found dead in the executive kitchen walk-in fridge. Ondstrand Biologic sits cliff side with a private beach and was the former site of a boarding school with a disreputable past; many of the researchers both live and work there. Dr. Allegra Stans was one of them but Myles discovers that she was certainly not the nerdy academic who spent all of her time with her nose in the high tech pursuits of the company. Who murdered her and why? Myles has open access to all of the employees and the management team but everyone tries to keep their secrets despite his efforts and implied threats backed by his organization. 

I really enjoyed this and liked the writing style. The plot was interesting and the protagonist, Myles, was clever and discerning. Many parts of the book were deliberately vague, but it gave off a gothic vibe with the isolated location and the creepy history of the place. There were a lot of characters to keep straight, but the author did a good job of making each memorable -- and I was suspicious of them all. The whole story of who Myles is, who he works with and for, and the details about Standard Division were quite entertaining. I would definitely like to read more books in a series featuring this character.

Thank you to NetGalley and Knopf Publishing Group for this e-book ARC to read, review, and recommend.
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If you like thrillers, brooding mysteries set in eerie locations, secrets by the score, manor house type vibe, techno stuff like genetics, a bit of subtle, dry humor and above all an ultra secret state run bureau....this is the next book you need to read. It has a bit of every genre in it and they are all woven together in a real page turner.
Agent Myles - who prefers to be called just Myles, thank you very much - arrives at a spooky mansion on a seaside cliff, a location that was, at one time, a boarding school with a dark past (cue the fitting background music) with orders to find out who killed Allegra Stans, a member of an ultra high tech organization named Ondstrand. The first thing we learn is Myles has been sent to investigate without one iota of information beyond the victim's name and that she has been murdered, her neck broken. We also understand that his bosses at Standard Division have been fully informed. Interesting. The list of suspects is limited with only 207 employees on site in a fairly remote location.
Each chapter drew me to the next with ease and I kept saying to myself "just one more chapter". I was hooked. Even the nebulous feel of the location - is it Scandinavian? Is it Northern England? adds to the tension. I kept trying to find words to describe Myles. I think the words that best fit are he's a Government Fixer. He's a very interesting character in an engrossing mystery/thriller. A Secret About a Secret has a bit of everything.
My thanks to the publisher Knopf Publishing Group and to NetGalley for giving me an advance copy in exchange for my honest review.
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Agent Myles is a member of Standard Division, a shadowy government agency with a reputation for ruthless investigations in service to the state. What state this is, readers are never told, as the proceedings of A Secret About A Secret take place in a vaguely British, vaguely Nordic environ convincingly created by the American Peter Spiegelman to showcase his gripping tale of deception, betrayal and murder on the remote campus of a biotech firm of the near future.

When Myles arrives on this campus, having been told only that a murder has occurred and that it’s in the state’s interests for him to look into the matter, he’s met by Nadia Blom, his official liaison with Ondstrand Biologic. She’s somewhat chagrined to find out exactly how little he knows about the death that’s causing so much turmoil for her employers:

“Don’t your people tell you <i>anything?</i> Don’t they brief you?”

“As a rule, they find it’s best if I hear things for myself. They believe less mediation means less bias introduced. My experience is that bias finds a way. Nevertheless…”

Lines appeared across her brow. “So what <i>do</i> you know?”

“About your company and what you do here: nothing. About the circumstances that led Dr. Witmer and Dr. Hasp to call on us today: also nothing.”

Nadia Blom’s mouth opened, but for a while no words came out. “Nothing at all? <i>Nothing?</i> Then what good are you?”

“A question I ask myself often. That said, if you’d care to relieve a bit of my ignorance, I might manage something productive. Or at least manage to keep busy.”

Myles’ dry humor often alleviates the grim realities of his day-to-day activities, as he must not only track down the killer of the brilliant, beautiful Dr Allegra Stans, but also find out why Standard Division cares so much about her death. As he probes into Allegra’s past, he uncovers not only her own unabashed and sometimes less than ethical history, but also the deeply disturbing reason for Ondstrand Biologic’s choice to build their cutting edge tech campus on the remains of a long-shuttered boarding school tainted by scandal. 

The remoteness of the location lends a hothouse vibe to his on-campus investigations, as the small group of researchers and employees present tries to cooperate with this agent of a feared government division without also implicating themselves in Allegra’s murder. Dr Pohl, the newest member of the board, is perhaps one of the most forthcoming of those present when discussing with Myles the rarefied air of the place:

“<i>Sheltered</i>. I suppose it <i>is</i> that–like being back in uni days, or even earlier. It used to be a boarding school, you know.”

“So I’ve heard.”

“And it <i>is</i> a bit out of the way. Though the towns nearby are pleasant enough, if a little precious. They have all the mod cons.”

“I wasn’t thinking just of the physical circumstances or the local services. How is it culturally?” Pohl’s face clouded again, and his brow furrowed. “A small company on a closed campus, far from the wider world–I wonder if office personalities and politics aren’t oppressive sometimes–even suffocating.”

This is, of course, the perfect atmosphere for an isolated manor house mystery, which is only one of the many subgenres at play in this refreshingly inventive take on the crime novel. From the Gothic undertones of the scandal-racked boarding school to the slick machinations of modern corporate espionage, from the Scandinoir atmosphere of the bleak coastal towns to the technothriller details of what exactly Ondstrand Biologic is capable of doing – all overseen by the vaguely dystopian government agency that is yet a force for justice – this novel is a masterclass of melding the best of various strands of detective fiction to create something wholly fresh and stunningly original. I rather hope that this is merely the first in a series, as Myles is a tremendously engaging, intelligent hero I definitely want to read more about, in an intriguingly speculative setting that deserves further exploration.
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"Looming high above the cliffside along a remote coastline, Ondstrand House is the headquarters of the shadowy biotech firm Ondstrand Biologic. When the body of the organization’s most gifted young scientist, Allegra Stans, is discovered in a walk-in refrigerator - her neck has been broken - Agent Myles is called in to investigate. Myles works for Standard Division, the most feared element of a vast state security apparatus, and he’s been dispatched to the brooding manor, a massive stone campus that once housed a notorious boarding school, to do what Standard Division agents do best - complete the task at hand.

As his investigation proceeds, Myles discovers that "gifted scientist" is only one thread in the complicated fabric of Allegra’s life. There are darker strands as well - of ambition, manipulation, and bitter grievance - all woven into a pattern of secrets, each presenting a reasonable motive for murder. It appears everyone has something to hide, including Allegra’s colleagues, lovers, and former lovers - even the very halls of Ondstrand House itself.

Questions continue to pile up: What interest does Standard Division, an organization best known for intelligence gathering and clandestine international operations, have in this seemingly straightforward case? Could the killing have anything to do with the sprawling estate’s sordid past? And what, exactly, is this research facility researching? Before long, another murder is discovered, and Myles finds himself an increasingly unwelcome presence in an ever more hostile landscape with few allies and fewer answers."

A sprawling estate's sordid past that now houses a biotech firm? Michael Crichton meets Agatha Christie!
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