City of Secrets [is] a little jewel, wonderfully sparse, moody and uneasy, reminiscent of the delicious, frayed-collar noir of le Carré’s The Spy Who Came In From the Cold ... You can smell the squally desert wind that bends the cypress trees on the Jerusalem hills but never brings the rain. City of Secrets makes for great summer reading.
...[a] biting, bruising, achingly sad historical novel...City of Secrets is, by inclination and design, quiet and finite, but its impact is deceptively large because O’Nan (“West of Sunset,” “Emily, Alone”) has something that can’t be taught to a writer — and can indeed be unlearned by talented writers: the gift of authenticity. You’ll rarely catch O’Nan being an author. You’ll simply feel his story rolling past you, in the manner of an old Peugeot.
As in any good mystery, the third-person narrator knows more than he lets on; much is hinted and suggested, little is spelled out. The style is spare but pictorial. O’Nan’s historical and topographical research is impressive — the streets, monuments, city gates, even the swallows and the desert wind, the khamsin, are meticulously named. It’s a fine piece of storytelling. I have to say, however, that I did not fully buy Brand as a young Latvian.