The Darkest Secret
By Alex Marwood
If you’re looking for a mystery that delves deeply into its characters’ personalities and motivations, moves along at a lively clip, and offers up smart observations of us humans, Ms. Alex Marwood’s latest deserves a place on your reading list. Hers is mystery writing of the highest order, fortified by an easy-to-read style and a devious—make that extremely devious—imagination.
It’s August Bank Holiday 2004 and Sean Jackson has gathered his closest friends, as well as children, at his latest mega house, to be put up for sale the next week, in Bournemouth (on the south coast in south Dorset) to celebrate his fiftieth birthday in high style; that is, with plenty of drinking, drugging, and general abandon. Money is no obstacle for Sean, who has made his fortune as a real estate developer. He’s on his second wife, Claire, at the time of the party, with twin girls by her, Coco and Ruby. Also at the party, are his daughters from his first marriage, Mila and India, rebellious toward and resentful of their father, and Simone, daughter of Robert, his lawyer and Maria, celebrity PR Consultant, who harbors a rabid teen desire for Sean. Linda, MD Jimmy’s wife, is the new object of his passion; yes, Claire’s on the way out the door and she knows it as the holiday progresses. This doesn’t dampened the party for anybody, except Claire, but the absence of the regular caregiver, whom Claire has dismissed, does toss a child’s blanket on things. That’s when Jimmy steps in with a solution leading to an exposition of panic when Coco vanishes, an event that binds everybody present, except Claire who has fled to her and Sean’s regular house, closer in an uncomfortable conspiracy of silence.
That’s the past, narrated in third-person. Marwood intertwines it with the present, narrated by Mila. The novel opens twelve years afterwards, the present, with Mila, being enlisted against her will to identify the body of her father. Sean has been discovered deceased in a hotel handcuffed to a bed. Further, Mila, again against her will, must accompany the living twin Ruby, now a teen, to the funeral, for Claire can’t bear to see these former friends. Mila unspools the family secrets, among them her and her sister’s loathing of Sean, their dislike of Claire, and her own vague understanding of what happened the night Coco disappeared; she and India left early and where not present when the alarm sounded about Coco. As they travel together, Mila develops a liking and sisterly affection for Ruby. Ruby, for her part, wants desperately to know what really happened to her sister, suspicious of the story she’s been feed. This piques Mila’s own desire for more details. And the details do come out in very ingenious fashion that makes full use of one character’s special abilities.
Be forewarned, The Darkest Secret is a book that doesn’t fully reveal itself until the very end, so readers should refrain from reading the last pages in advance. The ending will also have you wondering about the death of another character that occurred by accident years after the tragic weekend and years before Sean’s funeral. It’s an added delight for lovers of mysteries. w/c