Jenny Quintana knows how to write a good hook: I met Rachel in the summer of 1978, the year before they found the first body. The book then moves twenty years later and the narrator, Elizabeth, now in her mid-30s, lives on her own in Oxford. But it turns out that the hook is just that, there is only one other body and the two may or may not be connected as the second is only discovered in 1999. Only Elizabeth knows how the two might be connected.
The novel is then, a kind of coming-of-age with some violence memoir, as Elizabeth recalls her teenage years. She was overweight, shunned by most her classmates, derided by her teachers and caught off guard when her father ran off with the mother of one of her schoolmates. That schoolmate, the beautiful Rachel, was someone who Elizabeth had been obsessing over and slowly, in the aftermath of their shared betrayal, they become kind-of friends. At the same time the body of a local woman is found bashed to death in the woods and suspicions fly around the small town.
But Elizabeth’s present concern is the discovery of the second body, an event relayed to her by her old neighbour. The body is skeletal with no identification and has been exposed to the elements for many years. Elizabeth has a connection to this body, so much so that the sight of police give rise to the belief that she is about to be arrested. Who the body is and Elizabeth’s connection to it are spun out in her tale.
Our Dark Secret sets itself up with an intriguing mystery and Quintana does eventually deliver on that promise. But the narrative is actually more interested in the trials and tribulations of growing up unpopular and overweight in the late 1970s. So that Our Dark Secret feels more like a twisted and dark coming of age story involving, as it does, infidelity, betrayal, revenge, sexual abuse, self-harming and death. And if that is what you are after, Quintana delivers.