I picked up The Darkest Secret after seeing Alex Marwood speak at a Deadly in Dulwich event at the ever-wonderful Dulwich Books. She was a great speaker – very funny and opinionated – and she also read out the first chapter of her book, which was captivating. I finally got round to reading the book on holiday and was not disappointed.
The Darkest Secret opens with a mass email sent from Maria Gavila, an expert publicist, to her entire address book alerting them that her goddaughter Coco Jackson has been taken in the night and asking them to look out for her. From the very next chapter however, eagle-eyed readers will spot clues that the story Maria is telling is not what really happened.
Sean Jackson, an arrogant and philandering property developer, plans to celebrate his fiftieth birthday in style, and has invited a some of his wealthy and influential friends for a wild weekend-long party in one of his properties. Unfortunately, his second wife Claire has just fired the nanny in a fit of jealousy, so the group will need to take the childcare into their own hands…with devastating consequences. The book switches back and forth from from Sean’s birthday weekend, to his funeral twelve years later. He is on his fourth marriage, and has been found handcuffed to a bed in a hotel, having clearly died in less than honourable circumstances. His older daughter Camilla, from his first marriage, must collect Ruby, Coco’s twin sister, and her half sister, the few relatives who want to attend his funeral.
The unlikely friendship that Ruby and Mila create over the weekend is the emotional heart of the book, touchingly normal amidst the rest of their dysfunctional family. Meanwhile, the plotting, scheming and general loathsomeness from the rest of the cast brings a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘love to hate.’ Almost everyone at Sean’s birthday weekend is equally unpleasant and selfish, from almost the almost caricaturishly vile conservative MP and his wife, to the unethical doctor who, echoing recent headlines, hands out drugs to his celebrity clientele like sweets. Everyone present knows that Sean is planning to finish with his wife Claire for his designer Linda, and all subtly shift their loyalties. It’s possible to sympathise in some way with Claire herself who is bitterly aware of the mistake she made in marrying Sean, and who will end up losing the most that weekend.
I virtually read the last few pages between my fingers, unable to put it down, hopelessly wanting it to take a different direction, until the final, sickening twist – the ultimate darkest secret.
The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood is out now, published by Sphere.