Island of Secrets by Rachel Rhys #BookReview #BlogTour

Set in the exotic city of Havana on the cusp of revolution, an English woman discovers mystery, romance and scandal in the atmospheric new novel by Rachel Rhys for fans of DINAH JEFFRIES, LUCINDA RILEY and SANTA MONTEFIORE

1957: Iris Bailey is bored to death of working in the typing pool and living with her parents in Hemel Hempstead. A gifted portraitist with a talent for sketching party guests, she dreams of becoming an artist. So she can’t believe her luck when socialite Nell Hardman invites her to Havana to draw at the wedding of her Hollywood director father.

Far from home, she quickly realizes the cocktails, tropical scents and azure skies mask a darker reality. As Cuba teeters on the edge of revolution and Iris’s heart melts for troubled photographer Joe, she discovers someone in the charismatic Hardman family is hiding a terrible secret. Can she uncover the ugly truth behind the glamour and the dazzle before all their lives are torn apart?

I thought Rachel Rhys' last book, Fatal Inheritance was wonderful and so I was thrilled to be invited to take part in the blog tour for Island of Secrets. Many thanks to Penguin Books and Anne Cater from Random Things Tours for inviting me and for my advance digital copy of the novel.

When Antonio Manuel fishes the body of actress Jean Summers out of the water, the memory scars him forever. How she ended up in the water haunts the story but although the mystery of her death casts a dark shadow upon an upcoming wedding, Island of Secrets is about the facades people create around themselves as well as the truth as to what really happened to Jean. 
Iris Bailey has the sort of structured life that was mapped out for many young women in 1957; she has a tedious job in a typing pool with a sexist boss and lives with her parents who have stagnated to the point where the claustrophobia she feels is almost palpable.
'Iris lives with her parents in a semi-detached house in a tree-lined street where the air is thick with inertia.
She still misses the art school she was allowed to attend for a year before having to settle into secretarial work and she misses the relaxed camaraderie of the gang of friends she made there even though she is still in a relationship with Peter. She was initially flattered to have been singled out by him but it's quickly evident that he is overbearing and controlling. It seems as if she is prepared to accept a life of quiet disappointment, however, an unexpected letter from socialite Nell Hardman changes everything when she invites Iris to Havana to draw at the star-studded wedding of her Hollywood director father, Hugh to the much younger Lana. 
Iris is naive and unworldly and is quickly thrust into the cynical, hedonistic world of the rich and privileged where she gradually becomes drawn into their dark secrets and complicated lives, realising that there are still questions hanging over Jean Summers' premature death. It becomes obvious that the forthcoming wedding is more controversial than just an age-gap relationship and it's impossible not to feel for her as she becomes increasingly torn between the glamorous intrigue of her new surroundings and her dull but familiar life back home. As an artist, Iris has a natural curiosity and empathy for people which often puts her in an unenviable position of hearing or seeing more than she should. Cuba itself is on the brink of revolution and  this is mirrored in her own life; it's fascinating to see how she is changed by her experiences, growing in confidence and self-worth as the novel progresses. 
It would be easy to dismiss many of the people Iris meets as being spoilt, decadent and shallow but the reality is sadder and though I didn't necessarily like them, I pitied their attention-seeking and bad behaviour as a desperate need to be recognised and valued. There is a poignant similarity between Iris's mother and Barbara Bonini, both of whom spend their days numbed by medication to cope with the tragedies that have befallen them. Iris isn't the only employee at the wedding and she confides some of her fears to effervescent writer, Eugene and Joe, a former war photographer who has turned to lighter fare and whose brooding presence confuses her even as she is irrevocably pulled towards him.
Havana is brought vividly to life and like the people Iris finds herself living alongside is hot, complicated and dangerous. Rachel Rhys also writes psychological thrillers as Tammy Cohen and so it's not surprising that Island of Secrets should be tense and unsettling at times. There are plenty of nerve-wracking suspenseful scenes but it's perhaps just as disturbing to realise that although Iris is undoubtedly at risk here, her return home to a domineering partner is also potentially dangerous. This compelling read kept me guessing throughout as to what further secrets would be exposed and what it would mean for them all, particularly Iris.
Beautifully written, addictive and immersive; Island of Secrets is an irresistible, character-driven mystery which evocatively captures the troubled heart of 1950s Cuba; I absolutely loved it! 

Island of Secrets was published in ebook and audiobook by Transworld Digital on 25th May 2020 and will be published in paperback by Black Swan on 25th June 2020, purchasing links can be found here  but please consider supporting an independent bookstore whenever possible.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Rachel Rhys is the pen-name of much-loved psychological suspense author, Tammy Cohen. She is the author of the Richard and Judy bookclub pick, Dangerous Crossing and the bestselling A Fatal Inheritance. Her latest novel is the immersive Island of Secrets. Rachel Rhys lives in North London with her family.


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