The Darkest Secret is just that, a novel full of secrets that no-one in particular wishes to share and it seems that it all begins on one fateful night in 2004 when a young girl goes missing in her sleep:
“I have no idea what took place at the Jackson house over the weekend, and have no idea what has happened to Coco Jackson” (Pg 15)
The Story of ‘The Darkest Secret’
Coco Jackson and her twin, Ruby, are just three years old when their father, Sean, turns 50. To celebrate, his turning of age he decides to arrange a heavy weekend of partying for a small group of friends down on the south coast. Being a luxury resort for the rich and famous, Sandbanks, seems to be the ideal place for Sean Jackson to flaunt just how far he has come in life. With a successful property business turning him into a wealthy man he chooses to surround himself with other powerful, arrogant individuals, a politician and a Harley Street doctor included, which in the end could be the breaking of him.
It was a warm August bank holiday weekend when Sean arranged for everyone to meet at Harbour View, a luxury property that he was in the process of remodelling before selling on for a profit. It was meant to be a weekend of extreme partying with nothing being frowned upon, however, thanks to his then wife, Claire, and her jealous streak they no longer have a nanny to look after the twins.
After berating his wife for sacking the nanny and believing that his weekend would be a complete disaster, a little glimmer of hope appears in the form of his two older daughters, India and Milly. At 17 and 15, they would be perfect replacements for babysitting duties and what better way to get to know their siblings better.
24 hours later and India and Milly are packing their bags and leaving. Sean is furious, not because his own daughters don’t want to celebrate with him but because he has lost his childminders for the weekend.
Self-centred and pompous, he can’t see past his own needs. He cannot see that his two children need a father figure that they can rely on, rather than one that simply uses them for his own gain. He had forgotten they were even coming for the weekend and then had treated them like hired help – any daughter would be upset with that kind of treatment surely.
What will happen to his birthday celebrations now? He has booked into a posh eatery and has no desire to cancel, so who is going to stay behind and look after the children?
Who would be willing to give up their evening of free, gourmet dining to look after not only the twins but the other children staying at the house?
The Potential Babysitters
The current insecure wife, who was the mistress when Sean was married to Heather, India and Milly’s mother. Once the trophy on the arm of a wealthy man she is now the individual who is paranoid that every other woman is sleeping with her husband. She disagrees that the children should be drugged but is torn; she has no desire to stay home whilst the others go out for the evening.
Sean’s current mistress, who is currently dating the doctor of the group, has suggested the drugging and apparently frequently does it to her own children which is why she can claim that they are so well-behaved. Chances of her staying home to babysit are very slim.
Infatuated with Sean, this 15 year old may well stay home to look after the children if he asks nicely. In the hope that one day she will become Mrs Sean Jackson it seems that there is nothing she won’t do to impress him but is babysitting on his birthday too much to ask?
Simone’s stepmother is also a well-known PR guru to the stars, but the last thing she has thought about doing this weekend is babysitting, even though her son, Joaquin, will also require looking after. She is there to have a good time, to enjoy a few G & T’s and to let her hair down.
This woman appears to know what she wants. She has no children, therefore there is zero likelihood of her offering to look after the children at any time let alone when an all-expenses paid evening out is on the cards. Some may call her selfish but why should she, after all none of the children are her reasonability.
Would anyone in the right mind leave the children with this doctor? A doctor who is willing to drug the children for a peaceful evening. He is someone that prefers the company of a whiskey bottle and a line of the white stuff before passing out on the sofa for long periods of time.
The self-obsessed Politician is there to overindulge. He has no desire to spend any time with children, let alone spend time with them on his own. Both he and his wife Imogen have little time for the youngsters, seeing them as an inconvenience so no-one is expecting them to volunteer.
Probably the most sensible of the gents present, this lawyer is certainly more straight-laced than his party companions however, once again, he seems very reluctant to spend the evening in surrounded by cartoons and grubby little hands. Will he, even though he knows how much trouble they can get into, go along with the alternative plan?
What actually happens?
After considering all the possibilities, and with a dubious Claire finally giving in to peer-pressure, the children are each given a little ‘vitamin’ to take along with their ice cream; just enough to send them to sleep and definitely not enough to cause permanent damage.
With each of the adults, and Simone, ready for their evening out , it is decided that some of them will take it in turns to walk the few minutes back between each course to check on the children who have now all been put into the annexe and are fast asleep.
Soon, with alcohol flowing, the children become a distance memory and it is only when Claire decides to check on them several hours later that she realises that Ruby has been ill. After clearly up the mess and settling the child back down to sleep, a drained Claire also climbs into bed whilst the others decide to continue the party.
It is when Claire awakes in the early hours of the morning that things start to go horribly wrong. She knows her marriage is over and believes another woman now has Sean’s full attention, but it is humiliating to find out that her so-called friends also know it. To make matters worse, after wandering down to the pool, she catches him and his new mistress in a compromising position which cements all of her worst fears.
“When a man marries his mistress he creates a vacancy” (James Goldsmith)
Can she really be surprised by his actions though? She was, at one time, the mistress after all.
Too upset to pack and collect her children, she runs out and heads back into London knowing that when Sean returns after the bank holiday that their marriage will be over.
Unbeknown to Claire however, her weekend is about to get much worse.
How would any parent react when they get that phone call; the call that says that their child has gone missing?
Just the thought of losing a child is every parent’s worst nightmare but when it becomes reality it must be truly heartbreaking.
Has Coco been taken? Did she wander off and have an accident? No-one knows, or do they?
As The Darkest Secret unravels the events leading up to Coco’s disappearance become clear, or do they? Are people really telling the truth?
What could be so bad that people would want to keep it a secret?
What will that secret ultimately cost?
The Darkest Secret is a novel that keeps you guessing. Everyone that was there that awful bank holiday weekend has an opinion, but does the story that they share contain the truth or have they stretched it slightly for their own benefit.
It is only after Sean Jackson dies that things begin to unfold at pace and the truth is final disclosed to the reader – however, that doesn’t mean that the truth is actually discovered by those that need it the most.
The Darkest Secret is a well-written story about love, betrayal and loss. Whilst you are afraid to find out the truth, you want to read on to find out what did actually happen and discover who was ultimately to blame for the demise of a harmless and innocent three year old.
Would I recommend The Darkest Secret?
It is a gripping book full of deceit and lies with twists that very few will expect. As you read it you begin to think that the story is going in one direction but then something happens that will throw you completely off track. Alex Marwood has done a brilliant job developing the main characters of this novel whilst still moving the narrative forward, meaning that there are some characters that you will come to love whilst others you will begin to despise. Ultimately though, the character that you dislike the most may not be the one to blame for the heart-attack caused.
It is a mystery novel that is not without its flaws and several questions could be raised about the plausibility of certain aspects of the story, however, it is also a story that does resonant with people. With several high profile stories, in recent years, of children vanishing it is a topic matter that compels people to read on.
Travelling Book Junkie Rating: ****