Book review: Secrets from the Past by Barbara Taylor Bradford

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You can always rely on master storyteller Barbara Taylor Bradford to provide a welcome escape from the humdrum of daily life.

Her epic and sumptuous novels have been thrilling readers since her first novel, A Woman of Substance, published back in 1979, launched her career as one of Britain’s most iconic authors.

Bradford, who set out as a journalist on the Yorkshire Evening Post, now lives in New York but the magic continues from across the ‘pond’ and Secrets from the Past, her twenty-eighth book, contains all the passion, romance and drama that have made her one of the world’s favourite writers.

In a compelling, emotion-packed saga of deeply buried secrets, passionate love, obsession and redemption, Bradford takes us from smart Manhattan to the beautiful hills above Nice, from the shimmering canals of Venice to the riot-filled streets of Libya in the Arab ‘spring.’

At its heart is a young war photographer struggling to come to terms with her charismatic father’s death and unprepared for the minefield she explodes when she delves into his life history.

Thirty-year-old Serena Stone is a talented American photojournalist who has followed in the footsteps of her famous war photographer father Tommy Stone on the world’s battlefronts. But when he dies unexpectedly from a heart attack, she steps away from the war zone to reassess her life.

With her mother also dead now, Serena’s mission is to collect memories of her beloved father and she has set about writing his life story. She approaches Harry Redford, Tommy’s best friend and front line colleague, to help fill in some of the gaps in her biography but Harry has a request of his own.

He wants her to go to Venice to take care of Zachary North, her former lover and another war photographer, who has come out of Afghanistan ‘a dead man walking.’ Zac is suffering from mental and physical exhaustion and is asking for Serena even though their six-year romance ended in a huge row nearly 12 months ago

Reluctantly, Serena flies out to Zac, who is holed up in her father’s old Venetian apartment, and almost inevitably they rekindle their passion. As they tackle her father’s huge legacy of iconic photographs, Serena unearths a collection that has never been seen before and amongst them is a photograph which turns her family history upside down.

The search for the truth about her father’s marriage to Serena’s movie star mother Elizabeth Vasson takes her back to war-torn Libya where she must risk death if she is ever to piece together a chapter of their lives that she never even knew existed.

As always, Bradford fills her book with high drama and vibrant characters in a moving story that portrays love in its many guises... and the power of the past to control both the present and the future.

(HarperCollins, hardback, £14.99)