I loved Alex Marwood’s previous novels, particularly The Wicked Girls, so I was thrilled to win a copy of The Darkest Secret last month. This is the first novel I’ve read in 2016 and what a way to start a new year… all the other books I read this year now have a lot to live up to!
The Darkest Secret is a dark and, at times, very claustrophobic novel about the secrets a group of friends keep. The novel is told over two weekends – one in 2004 and one in the present day. Over the course of a summer bank holiday weekend in 2004, a group of friends gather for Sean Jackson’s 50th birthday and by the end of the weekend his daughter is dead. In the present day, Sean has been found dead and some of his remaining children and all of his old friends from that holiday weekend gather together for his funeral.
This novel is brilliant; it’s a real character-led novel, with multiple narrators – all of whom seem very unreliable and most of them are deeply unlikeable. The way these adults behave and the things they do is vile and selfish, but it’s such a compelling novel that although you at times want to look away, you just can’t. I enjoy novels where I don’t like the characters because it takes you completely away from anything you know as in real life as you would never associate with people you hate; I also love unreliable narrators as they add to the unsettling atmosphere in a novel.
This novel isn’t so much about trying to work out whodunit, it’s more a novel of how people behave and why they did the things they did. For me, it was refreshing because this novel wasn’t trying to be an edge-of-your-seat thriller; it is, as Alex Marwood’s novels tend to be, a very disturbing look at the levels people will go to in order to get what they want or to cover up what they’ve done, and it’s brilliantly written.
Maria Gavilla was the most unnerving character for me. The way she coldly and calmly stage-managed all of her friends throughout the novel; she was always at the centre almost conducting events to suit her own ends. Maria appears friendly and caring but everything she does is in her own interest. I found it strange how she worried about her step-daughter Simone attracting the attention of the leery member of their group of friends and yet everyone else, including Simone’s peers, knew that she had a crush on Sean and yet Maria never said a word about that. There was something monstrous about her; I felt very disturbed by her.
Sean’s daughter, Mila, from his first marriage, and Ruby, from his second (twin to the missing Coco) are the only likeable characters in the book, but the damage done to them is telling. Mila doesn’t get close to people, and Ruby is kept a virtual prisoner by her overprotective mother. The redeeming aspect of this novel, although in no way due to the adults, who remain despicable, is that it felt like these two half-sisters had begun to form a relationship with each other that would last, I like to think that they would begin to heal from the damage together over time.
The Darkest Secret is incredibly intense, and the level of horror at the way these people behave just keeps being ramped up as the novel goes on. I couldn’t put this book down and I highly recommend it.
I rated this novel 5 out of 5.
I received a copy of this book from Little Brown via Net Galley and also won a proof print book from Sphere.
The Darkest Secret is out now in ebook, and is out in print on 7th January. Available from Amazon.