Shortly after being offered the assignment of reviewing Meg Gardiner's latest book, The Dirty Secrets Club, I was visiting an American friend in Tokyo and discovered the first Gardiner book, China Lake, on his bookshelf. The novel was a veritable roller coaster ride from page one. The protagonist, Evan Delaney, neatly splits the difference between Sue Grafton's feisty Kinsey Millhone and Robert Eversz's edgy Nina Zero. I finished it in short order, and was left eager to read The Dirty Secrets Club. Although her novels are set in her native California, Gardiner makes her home in England, and until now her books have been largely unavailable stateside. As Gardiner explained in our email interview, "The novels have been out in the rest of the English-speaking world since 2002, but weren't on sale in the USA. Then luck intervened, loudly" – Stephen King wrote a column praising Gardiner's books in Entertainment Weekly. The next week, "10 American publishers wanted to publish the Evan Delaney series, along with The Dirty Secrets Club," says Gardiner. "I was blown away." American readers will now have the chance to experience one of the finest contemporary writers in the genre.
The streets of San Francisco provide the backdrop for the fast-paced The Dirty Secrets Club. Membership is limited to the rich, famous and influential, to ensure that each person would have lots to lose if their secret were to be exposed. The problem is that one by one, the dirty secrets are coming to light, and the ensuing rash of high-profile suicides plagues the City by the Bay: first a highly regarded prosecutor launches her BMW off a freeway ramp; then a 49ers football star takes a flying dive off the Golden Gate Bridge. Enter Jo Beckett, forensic psychiatrist, and Amy Tang, hard-bitten SFPD policewoman, to try to make sense of it all. The interplay between Beckett and Tang is at once tentative and aggressive, neither one entirely trusting the motivations of the other. And Beckett has a secret of her own that she desperately wants to keep to herself.
Gardiner's characters are tough, but always sympathetic. "I figure that if I'm going to spend a year with these people while I write a novel, I'd better be able to stand their company. Even the awful characters had better have some redeeming features," she says. For my part, I will add a small amount to Gardiner's coffers by buying all of the Delaney books as soon as they are available – China Lake and Mission Canyon are already on sale, and the sequels will be released over the next three months.