In the Company of Secrets (Postcards from Pullman Book #1) by Judith Miller has the potential to be a stellar book. There could be complex characters with an intricately woven plotline however, in the end, it collapses under the weight of the excessive moral lessons and faith-based guilt. The characters are one-dimensional, the story is predictable and overall it is just a very lackluster book. It was an average book until after Olivia Mott (the protagonist) takes a day trip with Mr. Samuel Howard to Chicago. After this trip was over it became a challenging book to finish. I knew what was coming, the story is that predictable, and I was ready for it to end.
A brief synopsis of the book is this: Olivia Mott is a scullery maid in the kitchen of a Lord and his Lady in London, England in the 1890's. She confides in another maid that the head chef has insisted she become his mistress or lose his job. This maid, in turn, confides in the daughter of the Lord and Lady (Charlotte) who happens to be pregnant by an American businessman who visited London. Charlotte decides that she is going to run away to the city of Pullman, Illinois to find, and marry, her American businessman and she is taking Olivia with her. Once they arrive in Pullman Olivia takes a job as an assistant chef at Hotel Florence and the two women begin telling a string of lies to cover up their past.
That entire summary takes place in perhaps 20 pages. From that point on it becomes tedious and preachy. Please forgive the spoilers here but I'm attempting to save you from wasting time and money - the American businessman rejects Charlotte, Charlotte abandons Olivia and the baby in Illinois, all of the lies are exposed and the book ends hoping you will buy book #2. The moral of the story is that one should not lie as lies have a way of always catching up to you. It is a moral that is constantly driven into the reader's mind as it is repeated over, and over, and over again. Every single time that Olivia tells a little white lie, hides from the truth, or embellishes a story that moment is followed by her guilt and her remembering that she was taught not to lie because with each lie she tells she will have to tell two more to cover it up. I repeatedly felt the urge to reach into the pages and knock someone (the author? the protagonist?) off their high horse.
This book also became overwhelmingly preachy. After Olivia returns from her day trip to Chicago she encounters Mrs. DeVault and asks her, through the guilt she is feeling from yet another lie, what it means to be a believer. The most passionate writing of the entire novel comes at this moment when Mrs. DeVault tells Olivia how to be saved by the blood of Christ and gave her scripture to review. The reader is then treated to scripture verses as Olivia struggles with trying to believe that God will still love her despite her lies. The whole thing feels orchestrated to make a reader feel sinful and dirty for the mistakes they may have made in their lives as though the author wanted the reader to close the book, fall to their knees and repent. I wasn't offended by the scripture, as a Christian myself I enjoy stories that discuss the love of our Lord but this felt more like condemnation and judgment than love and forgiveness.
In the Company of Secrets could have been a great novel. There was so much room for the plot or the characters to develop but it never happens. The characters remain flat, the writing is stiff and the tone is critical and judgmental. There are a lot of great clean historical romance novels to read but unfortunately I cannot recommend this as one of them.
Review by Ashley LaMar
Closed the Cover