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Mothers and Brothers in Peril, and More New Crime Fiction

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Christoph Niemann

Angelic little babies make idiots of us all. A pregnant, unmarried grocery store clerk named Agatha dotes on her unborn child in THE SECRETS SHE KEEPS (Scribner, $26), Michael Robotham’s insightful psychological thriller about the joys and fears of impending motherhood. Agatha is consumed by all things prenatal, and especially the pregnancy of Meghan, a well-off and beautifully turned-out married customer, also in her third trimester, who represents perfection to a woman whose absent boyfriend wants no part of fatherhood. Dreaming of a future life when she and Meghan have become friends, Agatha makes plans: “We’ll do yoga classes and swap recipes and meet for coffee every Friday morning with our mothers’ group.”

When Agatha and Meghan, who alternate as narrators, realize that their due dates both fall in December, a bond is forged. Meghan welcomes Agatha into her home and invites the kind of intimate exchanges she’ll come to regret when her new acquaintance turns out to be a stalker. “I know her timetable, her friends, her habits and the rhythm of her life,” Agatha says proudly. But if Agatha isn’t as innocent as Meghan thinks, Meghan isn’t as wonderful as Agatha fantasizes. Both women, in fact, are clutching secrets that can ruin friendships, destroy marriages and shatter lives.

Agatha is the more interesting character, with her harrowing history and desperate yearning for a child to heal the wounds of past traumas. Her neediness may be fanatical and her assumptions psychotic, but her suffering is real. And she’s still bitter about mothers who thoughtlessly assume that some women are simply “too selfish or too choosy” to have children. But beneath the chattiness of her parenting blog, “Mucky Kids,” Meghan’s uneasy narrative voice registers her fears for her newborn son and her own private qualms. “I am a cliché,” she…

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