Book review | The Darkest Secret by Alex Marwood


The novel we discussed at September’s book club was ‘The Darkest Secret’ – written by Alex Marwood; the author of bestseller ‘The Wicked Girls’ and ‘The Killer Next Door’ (which is being adapted for film.)

On a quick digression, Alex Marwood is actually not a real person. The author’s real name is Serena Mackesy and she first became known with novels The Temp (1999) which went into the Sunday Times Top Ten on publication – Virtue (2000), Simply Heaven (2002) and Hold My Hand (2008). Soon branded under the label of ‘chick-lit’ Mackesy found herself boxed in a genre she didn’t particularly like writing. So in 2012 she adopted the pseudonym Alex Marwood with the publication of her first psychological thriller ‘The Wicked Girls’. And, given the success of her three ‘Marwood’ books she plans to continue writing under this name for as long as there’s a market for her work.

When identical twin Coco goes missing during a family celebration, a media frenzy breaks out. Her parents are rich and influential, as are the friends they were with at their holiday home by the sea, and the guests’ talent for publicity pushes the case into the public eye. But what really happened to Coco? Over two intense weekends – the first when Coco goes missing and the second, twelve years later, at the funeral of her father – the darkest of secrets will gradually be revealed…” [Source: Alex Marwood website]

So, what did we think? 

[Advance warning: this does contain spoilers!]

Most of the book club members described ‘The Darkest Secret’ as an enjoyable and easy read. This seems odd to say when it’s a rather macabre and psychologically disturbing topic. But we all agreed that somehow the book didn’t pull on the emotions strongly enough to make us feel real distress that a three year old child was *spoiler alert* murdered. And despite most of us finding it a page-turner it wasn’t long before we were critiquing (in a very light, novice way) and reassessing our views of the book.

As with all Marwood’s books, she draws upon real-life, and there is no escaping the similarities between ‘The Darkest Secret’ and the Madeline McCann case. A little close to the bone for a few people’s liking and not only did it lead us to revisit what we knew about the McCann case but it also made some of us question our own decisions and judgments as parents.

The Alex Marwood books tend to involve a lot of characters, this one was no different, so you did have to stay tuned in to keep up. Of the many characters most were unpleasant, narcissistic or just simply psychopathic! But we did warm to some as we saw their vulnerability and how their lives had been affected by a series of events and time spent with people of questionable personality traits.

Timeline, location and character narration changes didn’t put us off. At times the plot was predictable, other times unrealistic; and generally most of the characterisation was pretty superficial. And yet we all felt gripped, avidly reading to see how the story would unfold. Most of us foresaw the real truth or had our speculations along the way, but the twists and turns of the book still left us pondering. Was there more we didn’t know; what else had been covered up and made to go away; how often does the power of PR, blackmail or group peer pressure get used in real-life to keep something a secret?

Views differed on how this book compared to her other two. Some didn’t rate it as highly as the others, too rushed for publisher deadline or big screen aspirations perhaps? Others thought it the best of the three. Overall though, as long as the reader isn’t put off by the child death subject matter, most of us would recommend this book to someone else. It’s not a challenging read; it does pull you in and possibly ask some questions of yourself or others.

We could say more but we’d end up giving too much away so instead here’s what some of the book club members had to say…

  • “Absorbing thriller”
  • “An easy and entertaining read”
  • “Aspects of the book were cleverly played out but others, like how the book ended, could have been delivered in a better way”
  • “Continuity errors, some stereotyping and a predictable ending but overall I enjoyed it”
  • “Deliciously awful characters and an addictive plot”
  • “Discussing the novel, reflecting on the characters and plot, really heightened my enjoyment of the book”
  • “Gripping read”
  • “Let down in my view by the predictable characters and the resonance with the Madeline McCann disappearance”
  • “Loved where the conversation took us tonight – life is complicated and there is little that’s black and white”
  • “The book makes you think about how a pack mentality can lead us to act in a way we never thought we could”
  • “The book was intriguing and had you wanting more”
  • “Whilst the book doesn’t give us strong characters it provides some interesting insights into people and personality”

If you’ve read the book, we’d love it if you could comment below and tell us your thoughts.

Our next book club read is ‘I am Malala’ – if you would like to join us at book club on Wednesday 5 October please RSVP to reserve your place >>


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