Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
Freida McFadden has made a lot of fans for herself when she published The Housemaid, and now she returns with a tour-de-force of a sequel, titled The Housemaid’s Secret. This time around, we follow Millie as she finds a job working for a wealthy man living in a stunning penthouse, with a permanently-locked door where his ill wife allegedly resides.
Table of contents
Freida McFadden Enters the Penthouse of Horror
Every house holds a few secrets the outside world couldn’t hazard to guess, and while most of them are fairly harmless and innocent, Millie the housemaid would bed to differ. When she first appeared in Freida McFadden‘s The Housemaid, she got imprisoned in an attic. Returning now in The Housemaid’s Secret, she finds herself thrust into yet another macabre scenario.
Just as a little side note, I highly recommend you read the first novel, but not because it’s necessary to understand this one. It’s a true work of art in its own right, and if the premise of this story appeals to you, then the first entry certainly will as well. Nevertheless, if you’re intent on skipping it, you can do so with the knowledge it won’t hurt your ability to understand this second book.
Due to her having been recently-paroled, Millie can’t exactly be picky when it comes to her employers. All she needs is someone who won’t look too closely at her past and only ask her the minimum amount of questions. It’s not an easy life, but recently she found a new employer she feels blessed for with the Garrick family.
Living in a stunning penthouse with a view of the entire city, the Garricks only need Millie to perform basic housemaid duties, such as cleaning their luxurious furniture and cooking quality meals in their expensive kitchen. However, the way she sees it, there is only one problem: she hasn’t met Mrs. Garrick, who lives in the guest bedroom behind locked doors.
As her husband indicates it, she is quite ill and bed-ridden, not to be disturbed at all. Millie, however, can’t keep her curiosity at bay, hearing crying coming from her room and observing spots of blood on the neck of her white nightgown when doing laundry. One day, she decides to knock on the door, and when it gently swings open, her world changes forever.
Millie sees that it’s once again time to put her uncommon skills to use. Douglas Garrick has committed a terrible wrong, the kind there can be no justice for… but retribution, however, is a different matter. In a perfect position to enact any plan of vengeance she sees fit, Millie sets in motion a chain of events only she is capable of masterminding. Perhaps, however, she is a little overconfident; Mr. Garrick is no slouch when it comes to being a monster, and he’s got more than a few friends to support him.
The Cat and Mouse Game in The Housemaid’s Secret
If I had to pick out one element which would characterize the entirety of this novel, I’d have to say it’s the fact that in one form or another, pretty much everything in this story turns out to be a cat-and-mouse game of sorts. What makes it intriguing and sets it apart though, is the fact we seldom know who really is the cat, and who’s the mouse.
This approach to the narrative really goes a long way into turning the story into the very definition of a thriller, constantly keeping you on your toes, guessing about what’s going to happen just a few moments from now. Between the creep potentially stalking Millie and the Garrick side of the equation, we never quite feel safe for her, as if she might get struck from the shadows at any moment.
In my opinion, it was an excellent idea to throw this element of constant danger into the story, perhaps even necessary to make it enjoyable. Knowing now what Millie is truly capable of, we (the readers) know the sorts of dangers she’s able to overcome, and thus need to see the stakes raised in order to actually feel any sort of real concern for her.
This constant vulnerability is also what makes Millie’s plan for revenge in The Housemaid’s Secret so much fun to follow. Not only are we constantly wondering what inventive and devilish plan she’s cooking up next, but we’re also eagerly awaiting the moves which will be made against her, forcing her to improvise and adjust on-the-fly.
Perhaps naturally enough, this leads to the novel having a fairly huge number of twists, at least many more than I’ve seen contained with in a single book in recent memory. While this did lead to a bit of numbness in regards to the surprise inflicted upon me by certain unexpected turns, on the whole they are handled well enough to be impactful, and whenever necessary Freida McFadden raises the stakes just a little bit.
The Psychology of Vengeance
As much as this novel is about watching Millie wreck havoc on Douglas Garrick’s life and make him pay for what he’s done (all while avoiding his counter-blows and creepy stalkers along the way), Freida McFadden doesn’t shy away from diving beneath the surface and explore a few themes. Namely, domestic abuse is at the centre of it, as you might have gleamed from my brief summary of the plot.
While I wouldn’t say the author does some sort of groundbreaking work in The Housemaid’s Secret in regards to exposing previously-unseen truths in regards to domestic and spousal abuse, what she dose exceptionally well is drive home the psychological oppression it inflicts on the victim. We are acutely made aware of the suffering endured by Garrick’s wife, and it stays with us from start to finish.
By exploring the suffering of the victim, the author, perhaps inevitably, transitions into exploring the psychology of vengeance, this slightly irrational desire to inflict wrong on those who have wronged others, even if it will change nothing in the end. McFadden convincingly shows how this desire gestates within Millie as she learns the truth, how it drives her to risk her own life for the sake of a stranger.
I hope people won’t take this to mean the author herself endorses violent vengeance and such frivolous notions. She is, after all, telling a story, and does try to look at the topic from both sides, also exposing the self-destructive element vengeance tends to carry along with itself. On the whole, I’d say she successfully managed to justify the main character’s actions and motivations, to the point where I literally never had a question as to why Millie was doing any particular thing at any given moment.
This added layer of psychological flavouring works absolute wonders for the book as a whole, elevating it beyond being a simple psychological thriller. It’s a deeper and more meaningful work than that, lending a tangible weight to the characters, their, thoughts, actions, woes, joys, and ultimate fates. Simply-put, it makes the book that much more memorable.
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The Final Verdict
The Housemaid’s Secret by Freida McFadden is an absolutely spectacular sequel which, in my opinion, improves upon the first novel, offering a colourful plot filled with twists and turns, heavily flavoured with psychological elements and enacted by a fascinating cast of characters, all engaged in the deadliest game of cat-and-mouse imaginable.
If you’re a fan of the first novel and were eagerly awaiting a sequel, or are looking for a psychological thriller centred on a housemaid enacting a masterful plan for revenge on her employer, then I think you’ll definitely enjoy all this book has to offer.
Freida McFadden is an American author and practicing physician who specializes in the field of brain injury. She has written a number of bestselling psychological and medical thrillers, as well as some more lighthearted and humorous books. Her works include The Perfect Son, The Locked Door, The Wife Upstairs and One by One.