The Darkest Secret | Alex Marwood | 2016 | Sphere | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book
In 2004, successful businessman Sean Jackson gathers his friends together for his 50th birthday celebrations at the property he’s building to sell in Bournemouth. Jackson is a fortunate man. In addition to wealth and success, he has two young daughters, twins Coco and Ruby, with his second wife Claire, adding to his first family – daughters India and Camilla (Mila). And then there’s the mistress Linda… But this weekend is to prove memorable for all the wrong reasons. Three-year old Coco vanishes into thin air. Nothing is ever the same again for any of the people gathered together.
Twelve years later, Jackson is dead. His friends and family gather once more. Few of the relationships are what they were in 2004. There have been marriages and divorces, new children, continued grief for Coco. Jackson’s daughter Mila is given the task of bringing her half-sister Ruby, Coco’s twin, to the funeral. Together, they say goodbye to their father and confront the past.
From the very beginning, the shadows gather in The Darkest Secret. The mood is ominous and tense throughout. We can have no doubts surrounding this group of characters – they deserve everything coming to them. The vast majority of the people here are unpleasant and immoral, using each other without another thought, careless in their regard for their children and callous with their husbands and wives. Sean Jackson sets the standard and it is his life that we come to know the most through the novel – his succession of wives and mistresses, his growing numbers of unhappy children, and his selfish friends.
Some of the characters do manage to break away and surprise us. It’s hard not to care for Mila and Ruby. I also found Jackson’s second wife Claire increasingly likeable. The narrative moves between the two gatherings – in 2004 and in the present day – and the perspective changes, shifting from the point of view of Jackson and the adults at the birthday to that of Mila and the next generation at Jackson’s funeral. This means that our opinions of people shift. We have a host of unreliable narrators here, taking us deep into this world that is burdened with the darkest of secrets. This means that we are assured of surprises and shocks. The revelations come thick and fast. If you’re after twists, The Darkest Secret does not disappoint.
I have a mixed relationship with psychological thrillers and much depends on my response to the main characters. Although I liked Mila, I disliked Jackson intensely and he wasn’t the only one. This meant that I didn’t become as involved with the story and characters as I would have liked – their fate didn’t concern me much. Therefore, although I appreciated the cleverness of the plot and its development, I didn’t overly care what happened and the twists and revelations didn’t give me much of a jolt. Nevertheless, The Darkest Secret is well-written and its dark atmosphere does a good job of keeping the intrigue going throughout.