If you are one of those readers who likes to get stuck in early into a novel’s backstory, right back to the early years of what may have pre-empted the enactment of a crime, this slow moving and meticulously detailed mystery will satisfy. Our Dark Secret is the story of a girl who desperately wants to belong, and be loved, but never finds herself being a priority for anyone.
Elizabeth Constance Valentine, she of the very elegant name, is anything but. As a teenager in the 1970’s when willowy young ladies were the ‘it’ girls of the era, Elizabeth would like to fit in with her peers but knows that her differences set her apart. Awkward and shy, the attention and friendship of her peers is something that Elizabeth craves like nothing else.
Parented by the charming Ted and pragmatic Phyllis, Elizabeth tries to stay in the background of the family chaos and lives for those times when the dancing eyes of her father are only directed at her. When the inevitable happens and Elizabeth becomes the product of a broken home, she now has that in common with the beautiful Rachel.
In adulthood, Elizabeth has been unable to move on from the events of one day in 1972. Drifting from one rubbish job to another, twenty five years later her time of reckoning has come. A body has been found in the woods near her childhood home, the knowledge of such being the burning pit of dread in which Elizabeth has lived out her intervening years. Just how far she’d go to protect Rachel is about to be determined once again.
Our Dark Secret takes the reader along with Elizabeth as she struggles to re-invent herself, far away from those who once knew her best. As anyone who has ever been or parented a tween or teenage girl will tell you, those formulative years are incredibly intense and the influence of the opposite gender pales compare to the influence of other girls and women. Our Dark Secret gives appropriate weight to the power of these early female relationships, and the lifelong legacy those years gift to the later years when one is supposedly now an adult.
The obsession Elizabeth has with Rachel does register on the creep factor of what we would now call stalking, but perhaps back in the 1970’s such were the practicalities faced by the young and the fixated. The keeping of a large secret in this book is a burden it would seem mostly borne by one, and Elizabeth’s inability to fully unshackle herself from her past is not a new story but still a very relatable one to read of. From childhood to adulthood, the conspiratorial work that is Our Dark Secret lays it all out on the page for your thoughtful dissection.
Author Jenny Quintana grew up in Essex and Berkshire before studying English Literature in London. Her first novel, The Missing Girl, was published in 2017.
Our Dark Secret is published by Pan Macmillan Australia.
For more of Andy’s book reviews, check out AustCrimeFiction
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Australian Crime Fiction began in 2006 to provide a database of crime authors and books from Australasia in the crime genre. Now featuring book reviews, the site is dedicated to crime fiction and thrillers, with a heavy emphasis on Australian and New Zealand content.