Our Dark Secret by Jenny Quintana: Haunting, mind-teasing mystery - book review -

Dark Secret
Dark Secret

When Elizabeth first set eyes on Rachel, she knew she had ‘made it up to heaven.’ After years of her teachers thinking she was stupid, and her mother telling her she was ‘obtuse,’ Elizabeth is immediately drawn to the new girl who has arrived with her family in town.

Overweight, bullied and lonely, 14-year-old Elizabeth Valentine was convinced that the new girl in her class would be her perfect friend.

Beautiful, red-headed Rachel Wright had ‘an aura and ‘a glow’ that attracted Elizabeth like a moth to a flame… but twenty years later, dark secrets from their teenage years are set to slowly, and dangerously, rise to the surface.

Jenny Quintana, author of the stunning debut thriller, The Missing Girl, is back with another haunting, mind-teasing mystery which this time explores the deadly fall-out from a troubled young woman’s obsessive relationship.

When Elizabeth first set eyes on Rachel, she knew she had ‘made it up to heaven.’ After years of her teachers thinking she was stupid, and her mother telling her she was ‘obtuse,’ Elizabeth is immediately drawn to the new girl who has arrived with her family in town.

‘Alone, yet not lonely,’ Rachel is intriguing to the clever, overweight Elizabeth who is a perfect victim for the bullies and desperate to make a friend.

Against the odds, the two girls form an unlikely friendship. ‘The crazy girls,’ they called them… or at least, Elizabeth liked to think they did. But they were also ‘the abandoned girls’ and ‘the lost girls’ with many shared connections… although there really was only one that made a difference.

That was the ‘day when the world changed forever,’ and the first body was discovered.

Twenty years later, Elizabeth has flitted from one job to the next and built a life ‘on a precarious past.’ Her still fat body ‘is so full of love and loneliness it could burst’ but she wants nothing more than to keep the secrets of her teenage years well and truly buried.

But another body has been found, ‘secrets are parasites that devour the best of you, ’and she can’t keep running from what happened… can she?

A slow-burn and penetrating study of two girls, two deaths, and two decades of silence, Our Dark Secret cleverly navigates readers through a complex, compelling and deeply unequal friendship while flipping back down the years to dig out a series of dark and disturbing truths.

Elizabeth proves to be an intriguing and sometimes unreliable narrator… as the past unravels, we learn about her fractured childhood, the damaging parental disputes, her escape into comfort eating, and the corrosive effects of different kinds of abuse.

There is menace aplenty in this captivating coming-of-age story but there is also Quintana’s deep psychological insight, her study of both human nature and human tragedy, and her natural compassion and sensitivity.

With a cast of fascinating, flawed characters, a portrait of the painful realities of dysfunctional family life, and a gripping mystery rolling out across multiple timelines with a languorous, eloquent beauty, this atmospheric thriller scores highly on every level.

(Mantle, hardback, £14.99)