3 out of 4 stars
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The Secrets: A Mirror Estate Suspense Novelette by S. L. Fon is a short mystery story of 48 pages, a prequel to an upcoming series of Mirror Estate novels. After graduating from college a year ago and recently losing his mother, Dylan Roche is struggling to make ends meet. He originally moved back in with his ailing mother, Mimi, to take care of her and to save money while paying back his student loans. After her death, he gets a call to meet his mate Tommy for lunch. Tommy gives Dylan the much-needed checks and cash donated by mourners at his mother's funeral. Dylan is then visited by an attorney, Charles Townsend, acting on behalf of his grandmother, Carol Marino. Carol would like to get to know her grandson, and Townsend offers to fly Dylan out to Carol's estate by private jet. It seems Carol is a wealthy woman. But things on Carol's estate are not what they seem...
S. L. Fon is a pseudonym for an anonymous author who prefers their privacy. In this book, the author's sentences were simple and straightforward, making the story easy to read. The dialogue was nicely written and seemed authentic to the characters and the situations they were in. The storyline was entertaining and Dylan's family history was more complicated than I initially thought, which kept me reading to learn more. However, though I did enjoy the story, it didn't really grab me as it could have. I believe the fault might lie with the length of the tale since it is difficult to develop characters and build decent tension in under 50 pages. I feel I would engage more with the characters in the sequel novels after having more time to get to know them better.
Dylan's periodic feelings of being watched while staying on his grandmother's estate suggested to me a possible spirit presence, maybe his mother. Given the big old house, I believed there might be a haunted element to the story. While I didn't find these moments genuinely creepy, they were unsettling, leaving me wondering when this clandestine presence would properly announce itself. The author planned and executed the twists at the end neatly. The ending itself explained some of the unusual events from earlier in the story, which brought a final coherence to a previously mysterious plot.
The Secrets did need further editing, however. There were more errors than I expected in a 48-page story; I found ten by just over three-quarters of the way through. Most were either missing or incorrect words. One example was the use of "honky dory" instead of the regularly used expression "hunky-dory," meaning "everything's fine." Though most of the prose was concise, there were occasional sentences needing a trim, such as: "After graduating from college just about a year ago..." This sentence could easily lose the words "just about" (or change them for "almost") without losing any real meaning.
Overall, The Secrets: A Mirror Estate Novelette was an enjoyable read, but it didn't reach any great heights for me. As I said, I think I would connect better with the characters once I got to know them better in later books. Given that, and the editing, I would rate this book 2-and-a-half stars if I could. With half-stars not possible, I will award it 3 out of 4 stars, as I don't believe it had enough flaws to drop it to 2 stars. Those who enjoy short mystery stories should like this one, though be aware that it is fairly low-key and a little lacking in tension, mainly due to the shorter format.
The Secrets: A Mirror Estate Suspense Novelette
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