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Even It Up

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I know a ridiculous amount of ridiculously talented people.

On the one hand, it's incredibly lovely to know people whose work is so spectacular that you wish you'd written it. On the other hand, it's a bit daunting. When your friends write such amazing books, you kind of hope they don't read yours.

Take Alex Marwood, for example. Her stunning debut novel, The Wicked Girls, was astonishing and won an Edgar Award. She followed that up with the equally amazing, and completely different, The Killer Next Door, and won the Macavity Award. How do you follow up two remarkably amazing novels? I would probably never write another book and simply rest on my laurels, dining out on my fabulous first two award winning books.

If you're Alex Marwood, you somehow find another gear and kick it up yet another notch.

the darkest secret american cover

2004/Sunday/4:45 a.m./Seam

He waits while she pulls up her dress, then helps with the zip. In the grey dawn light she looks washed out, her blonde hair brassy rather than rich, her forehead shiny from too many preservative treatments. But still: better than the woman almost ten years her junior who's stormed off across the lawns ahead of them. Sean suddenly feels every decade of his five decades. I'm going to have the hangover from hell in a few hours, he thinks. And I bet Claire won't give me a hall pass just because it's my birthday.

"Shit," says Linda. "Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit."

Absently, he reaches out and kneads the muscles at the back of her neck. They're tense, like granite. He's sure they weren't like that when he had his hands there ten minutes ago. Claire spoils everything.

"It'll be okay," he says.

She rounds on him, her eyes narrowed, but still not a line to be seen on the shiny, shiny skin above. "How will it be okay, Sean? Go on. Tell me. What, you think she's going to keep this to herself? Think she's going to just meekly ignore this? She'll be on to her lawyers before they've even opened. You'd better check out your pre-nup, because you're going to need to be water-tight."

So begins the narrative of The Darkest Secret, following an email regarding the disappearance of three year old Coco Jackson from a posh seaside resort home, and several witness statements. The story of what happened to Coco flashes back and forth in time, between the weekend when Coco disappeared and the present, where the shocking sudden death of Coco's father--found handcuffed to a bedpost in a hotel room--has brought the case back to the attention of the media--and also the occasion of his funeral brings all the people who were there the weekend she disappeared back together again, years later, and old secrets and lies are dredged up again.

Coco's father, the wretched and vile narcissistic developer Sean Jackson, is as incapable of caring for and about his children as he is about being faithful to his wives. One of his daughters from his first marriage, Mila, is a point of view character in the present day; her reactions to long buried emotions and feelings for her now-dead father are even more complicated by her decision to take her half-sister Ruby, Coco's surviving twin, to the funeral weekend with her--where both she and Ruby will have to confront their father's widow--slightly older than Ruby but younger than Mila, as well as having to deal with Ruby's mother Claire--whose life was shattered by the guilt and blame for what happened to Coco as well as the end of her own marriage over the course of the weekend.

The book is an absolute tour-de-force, filled with shocks and surprises, as the timeline goes back and forth in time, as we learn what really happened that weekend as well as what is going on in the present, where Mila comes to terms with her own feelings, and how the events of her father's birthday weekend--and her half-sister's disappearance--have affected her own life and the decisions she has made.

This is a tour-de-force, and a master class in how to write a suspenseful thriller.

I cannot recommend this highly enough.
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