How do you know if your friends actually like you? Joni, Deb, Eden and Trina try to catch up once a year for some days away together. Now in their thirties, commitments have pulled them in different directions, and the closeness they once enjoyed growing up seems increasingly elusive. This year, determined to revive their intimacy, they each share a secret in an anonymous letter to be read out during the holiday. But instead of bringing them closer, the revelations seem to drive them apart. Then a fifth letter is discovered, venting long-held grudges, and it seems that one of the women is in serious danger. But who was the author? And which of them should be worried? The Fifth Letter examines the bonds of women’s friendship groups, and the loyalty and honesty they demand, along with letting go of relationships that once seemed essential but are now outgrown.
I’m a huge fan of the Moriarty sisters (Nicola is the younger sister of Liane and Jaclyn), and I was so excited to see that Nicola was publishing another book. She has a really distinctive voice that has a certain quirkiness to it. The Fifth Letter is an easy read – I finished it in an afternoon – although it has darker undertones that give it more of an edge than your average chick lit novel (I hate to compare to one of her sisters, but think Liane’s Big Little Lies, although not as extreme). This could’ve so easily entered psychological thriller territory (and I’m a little disappointed it didn’t).
We get the story as a flashback, with Joni recounting the story to a priest, and present day. I’m not sure how I felt about the talks with the priest – I personally would’ve preferred the story without them, but that doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with Moriarty’s writing. Moriarty skillfully weaves her story, surprising you with a new twist every few chapters. Each character’s secret is played close to the chest and when the final reveal comes, everything makes sense. Unfortunately, I found the identity of the fifth letter-writer and her reasons for doing so quite far-fetched, and probably the most unbelievable element of the plot.
I would’ve liked to see a little more character development – Deb, Eden and Trina didn’t feel as fleshed out as Joni did. That said, there was a really nice relationship between the four of them, one that anyone who has had a friendship that has lasted a lifetime would relate to. I related to Joni and her attempts to keep her friendship with her high school group alive, because balancing adulthood with maintaining relationships isn’t always the easiest thing in the world – life gets in the way. As can be expected in a book about female relationships, there was a lot of gossip and drama, but it felt realistic and true to character. I do think the dialogue alternated between being a little wooden and a bit cheesy – this isn’t something that Moriarty had a problem with in previous novels, so I was a bit surprised by it.
All in all, this one’s a great summer read – it’s light and easy, and one you’d probably enjoy lying on the beach.
Please note: this review originally appeared on my blog, What Kim Read Next. It has been reformatted and edited.