A secret hidden for 20 years – and the majority of the novel, as well.
The year is 1999. Elizabeth is a lonely woman, in a small town, and she has just received some very disturbing news: A body has been found in a copse of trees and Elizabeth knows exactly who it is, why they died and how. So begins Our Dark Secret, the second novel from British author Jenny Quintana. Her first, The Missing Girl, was published in 2017, so it’s been quite sometime between books.
Over 300+ pages Elizabeth reflects briefly on the events of 1978 and 1979. With the coming of the last year of the 1970s, her life takes a number of turns, all of which compound her self-loathing and increase her desire to be liked, loved or, at the very least, accepted.
Elizabeth is a typical loner or, in her own words, a loser. She hangs with the other losers at her school, existing from day to day until one day, when ‘she’ arrives. ‘She’ is a little redhead girl named Rachel, and Elizabeth is captivated by her. Quintana never openly reveals whether Elizabeth’s fascination with Rachel is sexually motivated or simply a desire to be like this instantly-likeable and accepted girl.
With the coming of Rachel comes the revelation that Elizabeth’s father is having a number of affairs, including one with Rachel’s mother. In time, he leaves Elizabeth and her mother, as Rachel’s mother leaves her father but, in her case, taking her little sister. In spite of this shared loss, Elizabeth still cannot find that longed-for connection with Rachel. Ultimately, two deaths follow: one of Elizabeth’s father’s former flings and, towards the end of the novel, the second – and this is the death aligned with the title of the novel.
The biggest issues with Our Dark Secret lies in the length of time spent on the tenuous links between Elizabeth and almost every other character, including Rachel, and the fact that once the dark secret is revealed, it is close to the end of the novel and not a particularly satisfying revelation in either identity or motive.
Our Dark Secretcould have been delivered in short story form with greater impact and less repetition, making it, unfortunately, more filler than substance.
The Missing Girl was chosen as Waterstones Thriller of the Month, back in 2017, so hopefully that was a stronger precursory effort.
Reviewed by Glen Christie
Distributed by: Pan Macmillan Australia
Released: February 2020