The Secret

June 1st is Publication Day for The Secret by Katharine Johnson


This is the second book set at Villa Leonida, the house at the centre of The Silence which was published last year but it’s a standalone story.

In The Silence some bodies were discovered at Villa Leonida, an idyllic holiday home, during a children’s game of hide-and-seek during a family holiday. They’re found to relate back to the summer of 1992.

A year on, in The Secret, the villa has been put up for sale. Which for elderly resident Sonia can only mean one thing – that the renewed interest and gossip will lead to the discovery of her own secret which relates to that same evening at the villa in 1992.

But while she’s desperate to keep the past hidden another resident, Carlo, can’t leave it alone. He’s determined to discover the truth about a wartime atrocity in which Sonia’s mother and his own played a part.


Here’s the blurb:

Love, lies and betrayal in wartime Italy. Two girls growing up in Mussolini’s Italy share a secret that has devastating consequences. Against a backdrop of fear, poverty and confusion during the Second World War friendship is tested and loyalties divided. But a chance encounter changes everything. The girls’ lives diverge when beautiful, daring Martina marries and moves into Villa Leonida, the most prestigious house I their Tuscan village while plain, studious Irena trains to be a teacher.

But neither marriage, nor life at Villa Leonida are as Martina imagined. And as other people’s lives take on a new purpose, Irena finds herself left behind.

Decades later a tragedy at the villa coincides with the discovery of an abandoned baby whose identity threatens to re-open old wounds. While Irena’s son is determined to get to the truth, Martina’s daughter is desperate to keep the past hidden.


The Secret is published by Crooked Cat Books and is available in paperback £6.99 and kindle £1.99 here: http://thesecretjohnson


Find out more at the Online launch on 1-2  June



About the author

Katharine Johnson likes writing about ordinary people in extraordinary situations. She’s passionate about old houses and the stories they have to tell. She grew up in Bristol and has lived in Italy. She currently lives in Berkshire but spends as much time as she can in the Lucca area of Tuscany. When not writing you’ll find her exploring cities, drinking coffee, playing netball badly and walking her madcap spaniel








“She’s back,” said Irena, looking out onto the piazza. “She’s

got a nerve.”

“Who’s back?” Carlo asked. He was only half-listening

to his mother, while calculating how many tables would be

needed at the restaurant that evening and whether extra

waitresses would be required.

“Martina. Look. Out there in the piazza.”

Carlo joined Irena’s small, stout form at the window, half

his size these days but no less imperious. He followed her

gaze to where Sonia was passing the fountain. “That’s not

Martina, it’s her daughter Sonia. Martina’s dead,


Irena’s voice was full of scorn. “Dead? Since when?”

He placed his hand on her arm. The skin was soft and

papery, a spider’s web of contours. “Must be twenty-five?

Thirty years ago?”

The furrows in his mother’s heavily-lined face deepened

as she thought about this. “No-one told me that. Why didn’t

anyone tell me?”

There was no sense arguing with Irena when she was like

this. At her age, it was hardly surprising she forgot things.

Although lately he’d started to worry that it might be

something more.

“It was when Cass and I were living in New York. You

wrote and told me. You didn’t go to the funeral – it was a

very small affair, from what you said.”

Irena’s stare was hard, her small, dark eyes like raisins in

her weathered face. “Please don’t treat me like an idiot. Of

course I know Martina’s dead. And not a day too soon

either. Good riddance to her.”

She looked as though she might spit but checked herself

and turned away. Her voice trembled. She turned towards

her chair, taking his arm to steady herself.

“What she did wasn’t Sonia’s fault,” Carlo said. “It isn’t

fair to blame her for what happened. There’s been enough of


To change the subject, he placed a box on the table in

front of his mother.

“I found these. Thought you might like to look through


Irena stared at the box but made no move to open it. It

wasn’t unusual for her hands to shake these days, but Carlo

noticed a flicker of panic cross her face, as though she were

afraid her memory might let her down.

“Whatever for?”

He could tell her the doctor had recommended it as a way

of helping reinforce her memories, but why worry her?

“Remember we were talking about the book I wanted to

write for you? The one about the village? I thought these

might help jog some memories.”

She’d talked so often about writing the book but had

never granted herself the time to do it. Always too busy –

and then arthritis had made typing impossible for her. Now,

with dementia setting in, she had all the time in the world

but sometimes couldn’t even write her name.

Several guidebooks had been written about the area, but

none specifically about the village. And all of them talked

about the topology, and the Etruscans, and comfortably distant

historic events, glossing over its more recent past –

the things that mattered.

Carlo had never taken the idea that seriously until now,

but increasingly he was getting a sense that time was

running out. Besides, it might be something he could sell in

the restaurant or to his wife’s property clients – a bit of local

colour. There were so few people left in the village that

remembered what it had been like in the last century. He

couldn’t stand the thought that when his mother died all

those people she’d kept alive for him in her stories would

die, too.

Some of the stories he’d heard so often that he’d stopped

paying proper attention. He’d found himself recounting

them to his daughters, and recently his grandchildren, but

he’d doubtless embroidered these with a few details of his

own so that he was no longer sure he could trust his

memory. He felt a little ashamed now that he’d not paid

more attention.

Perhaps it was already too late. Occasionally you could

still have a lucid conversation with his mother, but so often

these days the talk went round in circles. When had she got

like this? She’d always seemed indestructible.

While most of their neighbours – those that were left –

had packed up and moved away after the war ended, Irena

had stayed and watched Santa Zita’s slow decline, like a

sailor refusing to abandon a sinking ship. Carlo had asked

her hundreds of times to move to the States and live with

them, as she’d once promised, but she’d always been

adamant she couldn’t live anywhere but here. She’d no

more have left Santa Zita than cartwheel round the piazza.

Irena had known everything about everyone in the village

once. And there were still days when she recalled

surprisingly small details about people, but others when she

didn’t know them at all. She’d start a story and then

suddenly lose it.

“No, it’s gone,” she’d say, shaking her head with

frustration. As though her mind was a piece of lace with

some solid bits strung together by a series of holes.

“I know what’s happening to me,” she said, fixing him

with her dark eyes, the way she always had when seeing

straight through an attempted deception. “I know I’m losing

my mind. It happens at my age.”

She shook her head and looked out across the mountains

where a bird of prey was circling.

“Do you know the cruellest thing about it? I forget stupid

things like what I came into the room for, or what I was

about to say. Things I actually need to remember. And yet

the things I most want to forget are clearer now than ever.”

She said this last sentence so quietly he barely heard her.

He took her hand, which suddenly seemed very small.

“What do you mean, things you want to forget?”

She shook her head. She wasn’t going to talk about them