Her Last Secret by Barbara Copperthwaite

Bookoutre | 2017 (13 October) | c.400p | Review copy | Buy the book

Her Last Secret by Barbara CopperthwaiteIt is Christmas Day and gunshots have been reported, heard from 15 Burgh Road in Blackheath, London. When police arrive, they find blood and devastation. The house is lived in by Benjamin and Dominique Thomas (a couple in their 40s) and their two children, teenager Ruby and little girl Amber, known to the world as Mouse. They seemed to be the perfect family, very well off, smart and content. But the police find a diary inside the house and the threads that held the Thomas family together fall apart.

Her Last Secret presents a countdown to Christmas Day, covering the eight days that precede the shocking events. The short chapters move between each member of the Thomas family, but also including those around them – colleagues, friends, lovers. And as we reach the end of each day, little interludes bring us back to the bloody horror of Christmas Day as the police move further and further into the silent house.

I thought when I began Her Last Secret that it would be more of a police procedural, an investigation into the lives of the Thomas family, the unravelling of the clues. Instead, this is a psychological novel that focuses on the family members themselves, one by one, presenting the disintegration of what appeared to all as a tight unit. We’re given a succession of calamities, broken dreams, innocence corrupted and pure misery. It builds and builds through the novel until we can be in no doubt that the fuse is lit and nothing can extinguish it.

I loved the premise of the novel but I had several issues with the story and with its telling. This is the tale of a tragedy but its tone throughout feels light and bouncy, almost innocent, even during the shouting matches. These are unhappy characters (to put it mildly) but there’s no real sense of rage or emotion. There is also too much going on for me. The woes pile upon woes and after a short while I rather stopped enjoying hearing about them and the tension was lost, as was any interest I had in the characters. There are few surprises and those there are fell rather flat as by that stage I was expecting them. My main issue, though, is the ending. It disappointed me, which is a particular shame because it was in anticipation of a good ending that I stuck with it. Obviously, I can’t explain why I didn’t like the ending but suffice to say that I felt a little cheated.

The psychological thriller shelves are overcrowded places and, having read a huge bunch of them, I demand something clever and special from those of them I read these days. When they’re good they can be very good indeed. Her Last Secret was a fast read, with an intriguing structure, and it did hook me in with its excellent premise and beginning but, unfortunately, it turned out rather differently. However, I did finish it! Which is more than I can say about some psycho novels.

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