The Darkest Secret

the darkest secretPublished: 2016
Author: Alex Marwood

Satisfyingly nasty


A couple of weeks ago I read and reviewed Pretty Is and commented on how visceral and terrifying the thought of child abduction is, even to someone like me who doesn’t have children. It’s something that society as a whole is designed to fear and there are a number of newly released novels which play on this fear including Pretty Is, The Widow and Alex Marwood’s novel The Darkest Secret.

Coco Jackson, the three year-old daughter of a rich and powerful couple, goes missing during a celebratory weekend in Poole. Despite high-profile publicity campaigns and years of searching Coco is never found and the truth is never uncovered. Twelve years following the disappearance of Coco, her father dies and her half-sister Mila starts to unravel the truth – but will she be able to uncover the full facts?

There’s a lot of love for The Darkest Secret and much of it very well deserved, but while I enjoyed it I don’t quite feel that same excitement that other people do. It is very well written and it’s quite satisfyingly nasty in places but it didn’t grasp me from the beginning and for me that’s the difference between a good book and a great one.

The first few chapters are quite fragmented, an email from Coco’s godmother seeking help finding the little girl and witness statements from characters who then don’t feature very much in the narrative. Once the book settles into the switching timeframes of the father’s 50th birthday weekend when Coco disappears and the weekend of the father’s funeral it becomes much more fluid and I started to really enjoy it.

Many of the characters were hideously detestable particularly Coco’s father Sean Jackson and his horrible friends who included a hypocritical MP (Tory, of course). I do wonder if the group slipped into cliché at this point – the rich people were all selfish coke-snorting parasites. It worked in the context of the story, but left little room for subtlety. Mila was the only character who had any degree of complexity, but even she took a while to warm to. The only truly likeable character was Coco’s twin sister Ruby, lied to about her twin’s disappearance from the beginning and hidden away from the world by her mother.

I enjoyed the book – it made me gasp at times and angry at other times. It twisted and turned and was truly shocking at times. It has a completely contemporary feel and, despite the shared central premise of a missing child, is totally different to other books released recently. Worth a read, but it didn’t reach the dizzy heights of The Widow for me.

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