Book review: The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood

Tuesday, January 12, 2016 Permalink

I reviewed Alex Marwood’s The Killer Next Door just over a year ago (and enjoyed it) but the English journalist (who writes under a pseudonym) is best known from her debut novel, Wicked Girls… which I must get to at some point.

Her latest, The Darkest Secret, centres around the disappearance of a child and I must admit the 2007 case of 3yr old Madeleine McCann–who disappeared from her family’s holiday apartment while her parents dined nearby—came to mind as I tore through this novel.

Book review: The Darkest Secret by Alex MarwoodThe Darkest Secret
by Alex Marwood
Published by Sphere, Hachette Australia
on January 12th 2016
Source: Hachette Australia
ISBN: 9780751550702
Pages: 400

When three-year-old identical twin Coco goes missing during a family celebration, there is a media frenzy. Her parents are rich and influential, as are the friends they were with at their holiday home by the sea.

But what really happened to Coco during her father's 50th birthday weekend?

Set across two weekends - the first when Coco goes missing and the second, at the funeral of Coco's father, where at last, the darkest of secrets will be revealed...

This novel unfolds in two timeframes, starting with a significant focus on the events in the lead up to Coco’s disappearance in 2004. These are told from the viewpoints of several of the players at the time—those attending Sean Jackson’s 50th birthday celebrations.

The past later alternates with the ‘now’ following the death of Sean 15yrs later. One of Sean’s older daughters, Milly, narrates for us but we spend time with Coco’s twin, Ruby and revisit many of those present at the time of Coco’s disappearance.

On finally re-meeting her sister after over a decade Milly discovers that Ruby knows almost nothing of the disappearance of her twin and wants answers. Ruby and Milly form an unlikely bond as they start picking away at the past.

Marwood does a great job of eking out the happenings of the weekend in 2004 and keeps readers guessing for some time.

She’s also created a menagerie of some of the most unlikeable characters I’ve come across. Even the more considerate and compassionate of those attending the birthday celebrations fail to emerge from this novel untainted.

Interestingly however, Marwood’s also given us some complex characters: Sean Jackson—the man responsible for both gatherings—is (for example) exceedingly narcissistic and particularly talented at manipulating those around him… his charisma ensuring they side with him against whoever happens to bear the brunt of his anger or (more likely) antipathy.

I couldn’t put this book down… and yet I felt a strong sense of dissatisfaction after turning the last page (which has marked it down a little in my scoring, even though that’s more about ‘me’ than the book itself).

I’ve mentioned before that I get frustrated by a lack of justice. I know this is a problem when reading novels with twisty twists and unhappy endings, but I like to think karma wins out in the end.

And here, it does to an extent, as Sean’s mistresses soon learn what it’s like to be the betrayed and belittled wife.

There’s an additional twist at the end which didn’t surprise me. It’s the kind of thing which both frustrates me and enchants me.

And that pretty sums up this book overall – riveting and frustrating. At the same time.

The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood is published by Hachette Australia.

I received a copy of this novel from the publisher for review purposes. 

  • Tea Time with Marce
    January 13, 2016

    Hmmmm, I am intrigued with this thriller.Your lack of justice issue is similar to when I really despise all characters even if the book is good.

    • Debbish
      January 13, 2016

      I just reviewed another book in which I felt a bit similar Marce (Beside Myself). It’s hard to explain… it’s not that I need a happy ending, I just get frustrated when things aren’t ‘just’. I’m the same with TV and real life of course…

      Perhaps most people are the same. It makes the strategy risky in a book, show or film… but it’s one that works for many people and it certainly makes the readers / viewers feel something!

  • Emma
    January 13, 2016

    i’ve read other good reviews of this and do want to read it – I haven’t read any by Alex Marwood yet, though I own Wicked Games. It does sound intriguing. I love family secrets.

    • Debbish
      January 13, 2016

      I think I enjoyed this more than her other book I’ve read but I must source Wicked Games!

  • Allison @ The Book Wheel
    January 16, 2016

    If this book is half as good as Wicked Girls then I’m in! I had no idea that this was a pseudonym!

    • Debbish
      January 16, 2016

      I must read Wicked Girls Allison as I’ve enjoyed both others that I’ve read. This one certainly had me pondering on it for some time after!

I'd love to hear your thoughts