I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review
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I’m ashamed to admit that this is the first Alex Marwood book I’ve read, even though I love a good psychological mystery. I bought her much-hyped debut The Wicked Girls back in 2012, but it’s still languishing away on my shelf waiting to be read. I’ll be rectifying that soon, because her latest book, The Darkest Secret, is a tense, engrossing and addictive read.
This book is all about secrets. It follows a group of family at friends, who at first seem a close-knit group; privileged and lucky, but scratch the surface and there’s a world of tension, lies and deceit bubbling away underneath.
The story centres around one bank holiday weekend back in 2004, when the group go away to a holiday home on the coast to celebrate property millionare Sean Jackson’s 50th birthday. During the course of that fateful weekend, Sean’s marriage to his second wife Claire breaks down and one of their twin daughters, Coco, goes missing.
Fast-forward to present day, we follow a first-person narrative from Mila, one of Sean’s daughters from his first marriage. Despite having been all but estranged from her father most of her adult life, she finds herself surprisingly moved to learn that Sean has suddenly died, and travels to attend the funeral along with the remaining twin, Ruby.
Through the dual timeline, Marwood delicately allows the events of past and present to come together and unfold, providing a complex character study, twisted family drama and a cracking mystery all in one. She keeps the reader on tenterhooks throughout the novel, with no idea who to trust, and the dark events surrounding Coco’s mysterious disappearance aren’t fully revealed until the very last few pages.
There’s some big, bold characters in this novel, most of them completely unlikeable. Sean Jackson himself is present for less than half of the novel, but the larger-than-life property tycoon’s actions resonate long after his death. With an over-indulgent attitude to sex, drugs and alcohol, a string of wives who seem to get younger as he gets older and a personality which is charismatic yet narcissistic in equal measure, he’s a character who you won’t forget in a hurry. And he’s just the start. Marwood has created a complex web of family secrets; a medley of bitter, vindictive personalities vying against each other to get what they want.
Near the beginning of the novel it does feel like there’s a lot of characters being introduced and it can be difficult to keep up with the unconventional family ties – but I’d advise any reader to pay close attention to even the minor characters, as they may turn out to play a bigger part in proceedings than you’d think.
The Darkest Secret really lives up to its name – it’s dark, and packed with secrets and lies. It was great way to start my New Year’s crime reading – highly recommended.