8 March 2011

Book Review: The Secret Shopper Affair by Kate Harrison

Emily, Grazia and Sandie all met when they were secret shoppers, and all in the same boat. Now things have changed dramatically for each of the women, and it's pushing their friendships to the limit. Sandie is happily engaged to Toby Garnett, heir to the Garnett store throne and is pregnant with their first child. She's struggling to balance her career, her family and the renovations on her home. Meanwhile, Emily is very jealous of Sandie's pregnancy, as her partner Will has put a ban on them having any more children. Emily loves her son Freddie dearly but would love a new baby, and is beginning to resent their homemade shop in Heartsease for taking all of Will's attention. Finally, Grazia has had to say goodbye to the love of her life, and finds solace in a new skill she hasn't practiced for a long time. Can the ladies mend the rifts that are opening between them, and realise that their friendship is more important than anything else?

The Secret Shopper Affair is the third book in Kate Harrison's The Secret Shopper series, and it's one I have been eagerly awaiting for a while now! I really enjoyed the previous 2 outings with the three ladies who are now very familiar tome, so when a hardback copy of this arrived on my doorstep, I couldn't wait to get stuck in. I do like the new cover design, but I find it odd that Orion have changed the design for the series on the third book... what was wrong with the old design?! Either way, I hoped that wouldn't affect the story inside, which of course it shouldn't, and sat down to read.

The book picks up a little while after the second book, The Secret Shopper Unwrapped, with Emily and Will living in their homemade shop in Heartsease with her son Freddie, but things aren't all rosy. Emily is beginning to resent her friends for their lifestyle while it's all falling apart for her. She's sure her relationship to Will is on the rocks, and when she's given the opportunity to win a grant for Heartsease, she suddenly thinks it might be the motivation she needs. Sandie is pregnant and not necessarily enjoying her pregnancy, she's worrying about her career, that she won't be a good mother and that her fiancé's shop Garnett's is going under. Finally, Grazia is mourning after losing her love, but soon finds herself in a position she never thought she would be.. complete with a ready made family.

I found it very easy to get into, especially after being a fan of the first two novels, and quickly got absorbed into the story. Harrison's writing style is very easy to read, and I always find it a pleasure to pick up one of her books. She chooses to tell the story in the first person tense, and each of the chapters alternate between the narrators of Grazia, Sandie and Emily, and it's indicated at the start of each chapter who is narrating. It is easy to tell the difference though and I never struggle with the change, simply because Harrison writes them all very differently. I was surprised at my reaction to Emily in this book though, having loved her in the previous 2 novels, I found her to be quite dislikeable in this one, I just couldn't warm to her at all and found her very down and whiny all the time, which sounds awful when you think about her circumstances and desperation for another child, but sorry, I just couldn't bring myself to like her much!

As with the previous books, there is a separate plot lines for each of the characters, but they meet up regularly throughout the book to keep the three of them intertwined with each other's lives, although this happens perhaps less in this book than the previous one. I really enjoyed Sandie's journey in this book, I really warmed to her and wanted to read more about her and less about Emily if I am honest! Her story certainly seemed to link more to the previous books for me, perhaps because it brought her previous place of work back but I just found it very enjoyable. Grazia's story is at the opposite end of the scale to Sandie's, but again I found it very interesting to read, and I felt Harrison broached the subject of step-parenting and the difficulties that come with all of that very well, it seemed sympathetic yet not too emotional - she seems to have struck the right balance. I also liked Grazia's jet-setting, it was nice for the book to leave London and Heartsease briefly and added a dash of glamour into the proceedings too!

If you're a fan of the previous books, then you are most definitely going to want to read this. I found it very enjoyable overall, very easy to read and pick-up but Emily's story for me let it down a bit. I know that there was a point to it but I found her too negative for my liking and there wasn't enough positives from her to pick it back up again. There was a bit of a lack of Secret Shopping but after the developments of the story over the 3 books, that was expected, and a few occasions did pop up so I can't  moan too much! Harrison has easily slipped back into these characters, writing them with ease and when I was reading, it didn't feel like it had a been a year since I'd last read a Secret Shoppers book. You can of course read this as a stand-alone novel, enough of the background is explained for you to get the jist of the previous books but obviously it does work best read as the third in the series. I really enjoyed the book, and do hope that Harrison will be bringing back the Secret Shopping ladies once more!

Rating: 4/5


  1. these shopping related stuff all sound the same to me. Its like a copy of Kinsella's stuff.

  2. This sounds alright, I'll pick it up, but don't know if I'll rush out to get it. Thanks for the review Chole.