9 September 2009

Book Review: The Secret Shopper's Revenge by Kate Harrison

3 women - each hell-bent on revenge against the shopping industry. Emily is a single mum who has been dumped by her husband and is stuck in London with baby Freddie, and trying to upkeep her lifestyle with a tiny budget. She's struggling so when a mystery shopping job opportunity arises, she grabs it with both hands.

Sandie was a Store Manager of a huge department store but when things go terribly for her and she's sacked, she feels lost and abandoned by the industry that she's given her life to, and decides to join Shopping Angels to try to trip up her bosses.

Finally, the leader of the pack is Grazia, an Italian widow who has her own financial worries courtesy of her deceased artist husband. She sees something in the two young women that she likes and employs them as Shopping Angels - will the Angels get their revenge on the shopping world, or is it one mission too far?

This was my first Kate Harrison novel, and I'm not ashamed to say I chose it in the shop because of its gorgeous blue and pink cover which really jumped out at me from the shelf! The plot based around mystery shopping really intrigued me, and I think Harrison has really created a funny yet compelling book here. There is something here for everyone - a single mum, a career girl and a (rather older) widow so the spectrum of characters is quite wide and keeps your attention for the near-400 pages of the book.

The book is told in the first person by 3 different narrators which change from chapter to chapter. Each of the women; Emily, Sandie and Grazia, each take turns at telling us their part of the story. We're given plenty of back story so we can begin to like the women and feel empathy for them because of the terrible things that have happened to them. Out of the three, I could relate mostly to Emily because I've been there when you've got a screaming baby in a pushchair and the assistants are giving you snotty looks even though there's nothing you can do about it! Emily is the comic relief in the book and Harrison writes her dilemmas in an amusing way but I bet most mothers will have experienced several of Emily's problems!

I did initially wonder how far a book based around mystery shopping could go, but thats actually only one small part of this book. It really chooses to focus on the lives of the women and how they begin to build themselves up again despite the bad situations they each find themselves in, and creating new friendships in the least likely of places. I didn't like Grazia at the start and wondered how she fitted into the story but as her character became revealed bit by bit, you begin to understand her and by the end I couldn't imagine the book without her, she was fab! Sandie was another growing character, and one I liked far more at the end that I did towards the start.

I really enjoyed reading Kate Harrison's descriptions of the department store when Sandie used to work. I could imagine in my head the lovely sections, from the lush lingerie to the glorious Christmas displays, and she has a real knack for making the scenes jump off the pages straight into your head! You can also pretty much guarantee that you've met at least one of the awful sales assistants in the book, and I wonder how many of these horrible characters were based on Kate's own experiences of snotty shop people! The scenes with Emily, while funny, are cringing and its beggars belief how shop assistants think they can treat customers in that way!

For me, this book was a wonderful read and one I could totally lose myself in. The three lead women are all likeable, especially Emily, and I think any reader of this book will be able to relate to at least one of the Angels in some ay or another. It's an uplifting book because it shows 3 women being triumphant against the odds, and reading their journey was very fun, and the comedy elements balanaced out their low points, and kept it fresh and moving at a very readable pace. I loved it, and I can't wait for the sequel, The Secret Shopper Unwrapped which is due out in October 2009!

Rating: 5/5

You can read our interview with the author Kate Harrison here: Kate Harrison's interview for Chick Lit Reviews

1 comment: