Tuesday, 29 December 2015

THE DARKEST SECRET by ALEX MARWOOD, reviewed by Valerie Laws

New thriller for 2016

This is the third thriller by Alex Marwood, pseudonym of a successful journalist and writer. Has she managed the hat trick? And the pressure’s on for Marwood, as Stephen King is a fan and describes her as ‘Scary as hell.’ I’ve bought, read and very much enjoyed her first two, The Wicked Girls and The Killer Next Door, so I’ve been looking forward to this one. It’s made clear up front that this is about a missing child. The tagline is ‘They said Coco went missing in the night. They lied.’ Those who read TKND may be a bit worried that the gore in that book combined with a possibly murdered child will be a bit much, but fear not. Despite Marwood’s skill at scaring, gripping, and grabbing the reader, the book has a heart and there is no gratuitous victim-porn such as far too many writers indulge in these days. However it is very dark, the language sharp, insightful and witty. The story is split between two time periods fifteen years apart, so that a lot of it is about how the disappearance of little Coco, supposedly abducted by an intruder, has affected those concerned. Did one or more of the characters do the nasty deed, and will they crack? The tagline might look like some kind of editorial error, as it reads like a spoiler right there on the front cover, but we don’t know who lied, and about what. One of the things Marwood excels at is body language and psychological giveaways, and these, and the reader, are played with as the main narrator, the engaging young and rather messed-up Milly, tries to make sense of her fractured family. Unreliable or unknowing narrators, nouveau riche spoiled characters we can easily dislike but keep being wrong-footed about, the twists and turns keep coming. I don’t like reviews which give away too much about the plot, so I won’t say more. The publishers describe the book as ‘ripped from the headlines’ so you can guess which headlines for yourself. The title ‘The Darkest Secret’ suggests that there are other secrets besides the darkest one... I devoured this book with agonised relish and it’s going to be a biggie – Marwood’s mantelpiece is already groaning with awards, so she’d better get some flying buttresses fitted to it. The Kindle version comes out January 1st, so you can pre-order/order for some post-Crimbo thrills, and the dead tree edition on June 30th, also available now to pre-order.
The publishers kindly sent me an advance copy to review, though I’d already pre-ordered the Kindle version.

Valerie Laws