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The Fifth Letter

The Fifth Letter

3.0 1
by Nicola Moriarty

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A fun vacation game turns destructive, exposing dark secrets, deeply buried grudges, and a shocking betrayal in Nicola Moriarity’s intriguing debut.

Four friends . . .

Joni, Deb, Eden, and Trina have been best friends since high school, sharing a bond that has seen them through their teenage years and into adulthood. But now, time and


A fun vacation game turns destructive, exposing dark secrets, deeply buried grudges, and a shocking betrayal in Nicola Moriarity’s intriguing debut.

Four friends . . .

Joni, Deb, Eden, and Trina have been best friends since high school, sharing a bond that has seen them through their teenage years and into adulthood. But now, time and circumstance is starting to pull them apart as careers, husbands, and babies get in the way. As their yearly vacation becomes less of a priority—at least for three of the women—how can Joni find a way to draw the four of them back together?

Four secrets . . .

During a laughter and wine-filled night, the women dare one another to write anonymous letters, spilling their deepest, darkest secrets. But the fun game turns devastating, exposing cracks in their lives and the friendship they share. Each letter is a dark confession revealing shocking information. A troubled marriage? A substance abuse problem? A secret pregnancy? A heartbreaking diagnosis?

Five letters . . .

Late on one of their last nights together, after the other three have gone to bed, Joni notices something in the fireplace—a burnt, crumpled, nearly destroyed, sheet of paper that holds the most shattering revelation of all. It is a fifth letter—a hate-filled rant that exposes a vicious, deeply hidden grudge that has festered for decades. But who wrote it? Which one of them has seethed with resentment all these years? What should Joni do?

Best friends are supposed to keep your darkest secrets. But the revelations Joni, Deb, Eden and Trina have shared will ripple through their lives with unforeseen consequences . . . and things will never be the same.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Joni Camilleri, Deb Camden, Trina Chan, and Eden Chester are all Scorpios and have all been friends since high school in 1990s Australia. They’ve shared secrets and crushes, moves and heartaches. Now, in 2016, even though they’re in their 30s and married, and all (but one) are mothers, they still somewhat reluctantly get together for an annual girls’ getaway. This year Joni suggests they each write an anonymous letter telling the group a secret. As they read the letters, they learn that one of them is contemplating divorce, one hates being a parent, one confesses to having placed a baby for adoption, and one admits to lying to her friends. But as all the letters are shared, it turns out there are five, and whomever wrote the last letter hates one of the others. The meandering stories of these women are held together with the powerful question of who wrote the last letter, which reveals just how precarious childhood friendships are. The interspersed first-person confessions between Joni and her priest don’t add much, but the majority of the book, told in alternating chapters of current scenes and flashbacks to 1993, adeptly exposes the striking differences among the four friends and the five letters. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In her U.S. debut, Australian novelist Moriarty (Paper Chains) explores women's friendships and the strain of secrets on them. Friends since high school, Joni, Deb, Eden, and Trina try to get together every year for a girls-only vacation. Family and other obligations have made that harder to do, and their once close relationships have started to fray. This year Joni plans the perfect vacation that she hopes will draw them closer again. But after a midnight dare, each woman writes an anonymous letter to the group, revealing her deepest secrets. As each letter is read, shock waves travel through the group. Even worse is the fifth letter Joni finds—one clearly meant to be destroyed—which unveils frightening levels of anger and hatred. How can one of these women she's loved for years hate another so vehemently, to the point of wishing her dead? VERDICT While a bit uneven in plotting and characterization, the novel's puzzle of the fifth letter will keep readers turning the pages. Though the author has been published in Australia, the recent breakout of her sister Liane's books in the United States will stir interest. [See Prepub Alert, 8/1/16.]—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI
Kirkus Reviews
There are unexpected consequences after four 30-ish women share a weekend of drinking and revealing—or not revealing—secrets in this debut Australian novel.Joni, Deb, Trina, and Eden first bonded as Scorpios with surnames ending in C while they were high school freshmen in 1993. Joni, who brought them together, has always been the rule follower, Deb the pretty, popular one, Trina, of Chinese descent and raised by a single mother, the tough athletic one, and Eden the shy, easily led one. By 2016, when the four gather at a rented beach house for the vacation weekend they have shared annually since they were 21, each has married and begun a career of one sort or another. Joni, feeling less connected because she's the only one who's childless, comes up with an idea to "restore their friendship," suggesting that each woman write down a secret on the beach house computer and print it out to share anonymously with the others. Shortly after Eden's letter is read, Joni comes across a half-burned fifth letter that reveals that one of her friends secretly hates someone else in the group and sometimes has violent feelings toward that person. Joni is shocked. Her attempts to figure out who is telling which secrets are often misguided, influenced by her resentments toward the other women and her insecurities about her marriage. In fact the most serious secrets may not even be revealed in the letters. While her friends have moments that hint at psychological complexity, central character Joni remains annoyingly whiny and judgmental. More seriously, the sense of mystery and intrigue the novel is attempting to develop remains lukewarm. Too often the truths revealed are anticlimactic compared to the buildup, and the italicized interludes spread throughout the novel, in which Joni "confesses" to a remarkably progressive priest, add little except a too-cute romantic twist. Shallow characters and an obviously manipulated plot defeat the usually winning trifecta of friendship, marriage, and motherhood.
Tracy Babiasz
“Readers [...] will race to the end as a credit to Nicola’s fine sense of pacing and suspense. An author to watch.”
Mary Hogan
“The brilliant unraveling of this sisterhood of secrets will leave you wondering how well you really know the best friends you’ve known forever. A must-read before your next Girl’s Night.”
Susan Elizabeth Phillips
“Lifelong friendships, secrets, and pages I couldn’t turn fast enough. The Fifth Letter is one of my favorite books this year, and Nicola Moriarty is now on my short list of favorite women’s fiction authors.”
Rachael Johns
“A delightful, heartwarming exploration of the twists and turns of true friendship, The Fifth Letter was simply delicious from the very first page to the last. [...] relatable characters, a fast-moving plot and just the right amount of mystery. I was hooked!”

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Nicola Moriarty is a Sydney-based novelist, copywriter, and mum to two small (but remarkably strong-willed) daughters. In between various career changes, becoming a mum, and completing her BA, she began to write. Now, she can’t seem to stop. Her previous works include the novels Free-Falling and Paper Chains, and the novella Captivation, as well as contributions to two U.K. anthologies. She was awarded the Fred Rush Convocation prize from Macquarie University, along with "Best Australian Debut" from Chicklit Club. She blogs (occasionally) at her website here: www.nicolamoriarty.com.au.

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Fifth Letter 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
SheTreadsSoftly 23 days ago
The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty is a recommended story set in Australia of four long-time friends and secrets. Joni Camilleri, Deb Camden, Trina Chan, and Eden Chester have all been friends since they attended high school together in 1993. Joni initially brought the four together because they are all Scorpios with surnames ending in C. Now it is 2016, they are all married and everyone but Joni is a mother. Joni has planned their annual girls' getaway at a rented beach house. Feeling that they are losing their connection to each other, Joni comes up with the idea that they will each write a letter sharing a secret with the group. These letters are read, one at a time, over the following days. As each letter is read, the friends discuss the secret as if none of them wrote it. But there is a fifth letter that was written. The writer tried to burn it in the fireplace, but it survived. Apparently one of the four friends is seething with anger and hates another one. The Fifth Letter is told in chapters that alternate between the present day get-together and flashbacks to their high school days. Interspersed are scenes of Joni meeting with a priest to give a long confession where she is essentially telling the story of the friends and their secrets, and little excerpts from the fifth letter. It is an enjoyable, well written book, as far as a light read for escapism goes, but it's not that mysterious, psychologically complex, surprising, or dark. While the characters are different, they are not especially well-developed or complicated. I guess I didn't find the secrets all that shocking or any surprising plot twists either. This is a novel you kick back to read for fun, not heart-pounding suspense or shocking plot reveals. It succeeds on that level. While the desire to read the four secrets and find out who wrote the fifth makes for a irresistible hook, The Fifth Letter was a bit of a letdown. Of course you don't know what other people, even close friends, are thinking or doing. Of course they have secrets or private parts of their lives. And, given the way life really is, the most serious secrets aren't even in the letters. Additionally, maybe it's just me, but I found it very difficult to take seriously four women friends who still refer to themselves as "girls." They are supposed to be in their late thirties, 38, so they should be beyond that now even if they became friends when they were girls. Disclosure: My advanced reading copy was courtesy of HarperCollins.