Our Dark Secret, Jenny Quintana
Crime Fiction themes do have a tendency to come in waves, but the past having a direct impact on somebody's present and future is a particularly rich field when tilled well, and Jenny Quintana has done that with considerable skill in OUR DARK SECRET.
Based around the character of Elizabeth Constance Valentine, the storyline moves from Elizabeth's 70's childhood, an only child, awkward, shy, clever, tending towards a bit frumpy and overweight. She adored her father Ted (of the wandering eye) but had a more complicated relationship with her more uptight mother Phyllis, particularly after Ted ran away with the mother of Rachel, the girl that Elizabeth wishes she was, or wishes she could be best, closest friends with.
Moving backwards and forwards through time OUR DARK SECRET takes you through Elizabeth's adult life, drifting from nothing job to nothing job, it's 25 years now since something happened that changed Elizabeth's life completely - and that wasn't just her father running off. A body found in the woods near her childhood home obviously has significance for Elizabeth, and the reader watches, as a slow motion car crash of the present day, becomes the out of control freight train which turned Elizabeth, Rachel and their families lives upside down all those years ago.
The character of Elizabeth is particularly well executed. A scruffy, sort of a no-hoper initially, Elizabeth's stronger, and smarter than readers might think. The influence of a broken home, of teenage friendships, of the sheer mind-altering intensity of friendships sought, lost and kept, had and continues to have a profound impact on Elizabeth. Something happened back in those important, formative years that have stunted her emotional growth ever since then, but she's not a victim, or a figure of derision. There's something overwhelmingly good, compelling and engaging about this woman. Rachel, on the other hand, is more ephemeral, the story of Elizabeth works it's way around her, she's a catalyst maybe, but what happened, what is the secret here, is tricky to nail down until this author is more than ready for you to understand just what happened all those years ago.
It's a fascinating study in damage, obsession, affection and distrust. It's an interesting study of parental failings and teenage stuff ups, and the complications that secrets create. Because there's more than one secret here, and each of them is as damaging and confronting as the last.
The crazy girls, they called them – or at least, Elizabeth liked to think they did. As a teenager in the late 1970s, she was clever, overweight and a perfect victim for the bullies. Then Rachel and her family arrived in town and, for Elizabeth, it was as if a light had been switched on. She was drawn to the bright and beautiful Rachel like a moth to a flame.
Rachel had her own reasons for wanting Elizabeth as a friend, and although their relationship was far from equal, Elizabeth would do anything for Rachel.
Then the first body was discovered.
Twenty years on, Elizabeth wants nothing more than to keep the secrets of her teenage years where they belong: in the past. But another body has been found, and she can’t keep running from what happened.