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OUR DARK SECRET by Jenny Quintana gets 8/10


Our Dark Secret
by Jenny Quintana
Pan Macmillan

8/10

Our Dark Secret is British author Jenny Quintana’s second thriller novel after her debut The Missing Girl, which was released in 2017.

The story follows main character Elizabeth Valentine through two time periods: her early teen years in the 1970s, and her current life in 1999. Elizabeth is described as a plump, awkward girl who struggles to fit in with other people in both the past and present.

Her current life is abruptly halted when she receives a phone call from someone in her hometown, letting her know they found skeletal remains in the woods, as they had many years before, and she reveals to readers that she has been harbouring a dark secret.

The story alternates between the two timeframes clearly, with the focus being on her life as a teenager. As a teen, her home life and family are falling apart, she feels self-conscious all the time, and nothing really seems to motivate her – until a beautiful, young redhead named Rachel moves to town with her family. Elizabeth is completely besotted with Rachel, who she sees as “the perfect girl.” The two form a close and secret bond that would be solidified by secrets so shocking and dark that readers will be absolutely enthralled by it.

Quintana’s narrative voice is strong, and Elizabeth is a compelling main character. She is unlike stereotypical protagonists; she is obsessive, intense and at times jarring. There are moments where you want to shake her for being a pushover or for allowing herself to be walked all over by Rachel, and there are moments where you seriously question her obsessive nature. Reading from Elizabeth’s perspective is like taking a walk with the side of your brain that isn’t quite cohesive with your personality, the side that plants doubt and anxiety, which is a strange yet compelling experience. She is overwhelmingly relatable in some senses and yet entirely alien in others.

Scenes written between Elizabeth and her flaky father are expertly crafted in a way that allows you to see his true intentions through her descriptions even though she is too young to see them herself at the time of the scene. The way in which her character develops through her relationship with her mother and new stepfather is another element that adds to her strange likability. The relationship between Elizabeth and Rachel is almost Heavenly Creatures-esque in its nature, the only real difference being that this obsession is more one-sided.

The murder-mystery element of the book has the reader questioning every character at length. About halfway through the book, the reader is well acquainted with all the quirky characters in town and will start to wonder whether or not they believe each one could really be capable of murder. The character descriptions are so well written that there is a sense of betrayal at even the proposition of some characters being guilty.

Now, the part of the mystery novel that really matters – the reveal. Some thrillers tend to follow a template that leads to an irritating level of predictability, but Our Dark Secret does not. When the culprit of the murder is revealed, along with the dark secrets hidden by Elizabeth and Rachel, it is world-shattering. The reader is left with puzzle pieces they had not previously noticed floating into place to reveal a horrifying and dark picture of the small town they have spent the past chapters walking through.

If you are a fan of thriller novels and have found yourself in a vicious cycle of guessing the ending, Our Dark Secret is the book for you. But be warned; once you pick it up, “just one more page” will quickly become a gross lie.

SAMANTHA FERGUSON

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