Author of the Month

Name: Alex Marwood

First Novel: The Wicked Girls

Most Recent Book: The Darkest Secret

'Without a shadow of a doubt this is THE book of 2016'

Apologies for the general email, but I desperately need your help. My goddaughter, Coco Jackson, disappeared from her family's holiday home in Bournemouth on the night of Sunday/Monday August 29/30th, the bank holiday weekend just gone. Coco is three years old.

When identical twin Coco goes missing during a family celebration, there is a media frenzy. Her parents are rich and influential, as are the friends they were with at their holiday home by the sea. But what really happened to Coco?

Over two intense weekends - the first when Coco goes missing and the second fifteen years later at the funeral of Coco’s father - the darkest of secrets are gradually revealed.

Without a shadow of a doubt this is THE book of 2016 – and it is only January! A bold statement, I know - but I am convinced you will agree with me when you read this book.

Alex Marwood burst onto the thriller scene with ‘The Wicked Girls’ and followed it up with ‘The Killer Next Door’ - two stunningly dark and absorbing novels. ‘The Darkest Secret’ cements Marwood's reputation as one of Britain's most exciting thriller writers of recent years.

‘The Darkest Secret’ is a genuinely shocking and emotive story with a cast of selfish and narcissistic middle-class characters who are entranced by their own lives. Their children are an inconvenience when it comes to having a good time. In a lesser writer's hands this could have ruined the story; the reader needs to sympathise with characters, especially when the main subject is the loss of a child. However, Alex Marwood's skilled prose and excellent attention to detail can give even the most hateful character a sense of intrigue and sympathy. However, this sensitive subject is handled with purpose and dedication from a writer who is a consummate professional at her craft.

The jump from 2004 to the present day racks up the tension and allows for some excellent cliff-hangers and misdirection making this a page-turning novel. I stayed up long into the night to finish this novel. I couldn't and didn’t want to put down this amazing book. The final chapters are heart-wrenching and the finale will leave you open-mouthed. Astonishingly brilliant.

Reviewed by: M.W.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) Your novels have a familiarity to recent news events and this one reminded me a great deal of the Madeleine McCann case. Does this come from your time as a journalist and ‘looking for a good story’?
I guess so, up to a point. I was actually a features journalist, though, so spent more time writing the stories that fleshed out the initial headlines than I did chasing people with a tape recorder. And I guess perhaps that's what my books reflect. As much as the "who, what, why, where, when?" of classic News journalism, I'm interested in the "What if...?", the "what type of person...?" and the "How the hell would you feel if...?" you get from Features.
2) The death of a child is an extremely sensitive subject. Did you set yourself boundaries with the detail so you didn't cross over into bad taste or melodrama?
Not formal ones, but yes, of course. I think it's a valid subject to discuss, particularly in the context of the fact that it's nearly always someone in the close family circle who brings a child to harm rather than the "stranger danger" that consumes so much of our attention, but I'm always acutely aware of how careful one needs to be. But actually, I'm always acutely aware of that, child or no child. I want to avoid making torture porn, and to attempt to reflect the fallout of disastrous choices rather than offer a horror thrill as such. It's so interesting how fascinated we all seem to be by things that, if we encountered them in real life, would probably break most of us. I guess it's a form of therapy, isn't it?
3) The adults in this book are all self-centred and not very nice people. Why did you choose such unattractive character traits rather than a happy family unit readers could warm to?
I actually originally set out to write a book about Narcissistic Personality Disorder! I've been noticing it all over the place lately, in public life and in situations I and people around me have found ourselves in. I think that overblown narcissism has become one of the big problems afflicting society at the moment, especially as it seems so often to come in a package with extreme political or religious views. They often also seem to hang out in gangs, like the Jackson Associates in ‘The Darkest Secret’ or, you know, the membership of ISIS. Jihadi John, with his enthusiasm for being recorded committing his disgusting murders, was a classic narcissist.

Personally, I find unpleasant people, and the damage they spread about them, fascinating. To be the child of a narcissist is a horribly damaging thing that can mark you for life, and I wanted to explore how Mila, the central character and partial narrator of ‘The Darkest Secret’, overcomes the lasting effects of a childhood spent in the retinue of a raging one. And I think that all one needs is one relatable character in a book, for it to work. In fact, ‘Gone Girl’ has no relatable characters at all, but I still think it's one of the best reads I've ever encountered.
4) How much research goes into the psychology of your characters?
Loads, but it's more a lifetime of reading about psychology generally than it is specific targeted research. Psychology - abnormal or otherwise - has always been a fascination, for me. I'd say that a good half of the non-fiction books I own are related to psychology. And like Mila, I do actually keep a copy of the DSM-V by my bed.
5) Your first novel is being made into a drama for the BBC and your second into a feature film, how does this effect your thought process when coming up with new ideas and writing your next novel?
Not at all. But I love film, particularly, and some TV, as well, so I guess that my work is generally influenced by it without my really knowing it. And my writing process usually begins with my getting a flash of a couple of highly visual scenes and building back and forward from them. With ‘The Killer Next Door’ it was the girls all in a row in the Lover's bedroom, and the five people standing over the Landlord's body; with ‘The Wicked Girls’ it was the three children trekking across a dried-up water-meadow near where I grew up on a broiling summer day, and Kirsty standing in the pouring rain with a bloodied scaffolding coupler in her hand. I won't say what the starting point for ‘The Darkest Secret’ was, because... well, spoilers.

Can I also say that if I were ever to write something as incandescently brilliant as Bron/Broen/The Bridge I would die happy? I've watched it all over and over again and I can't find a single thing to fault it on through my gopping sobs.
6) Would you consider writing a series of novels or are you content with standalone thrillers?
I tend to read standalones more than series myself, so I guess that means that I'm likely to want to carry on writing them. Plus I have the most appalling butterfly mind and find it hard enough to keep a single novel in my head for the time it takes to write it, let alone to be faffing with a series arc.
7) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
Every overnight success has worked for years to make that night happen. Accept that you're in it for the long haul and don't try to take short-cuts.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
Barbara Vine - A Fatal Inversion - the first psychological thriller I was aware of reading, and a book that made me want to write.

Patricia Highsmith - The Talented Mr Ripley - she was an odd, unpredictable writer, but my God, when she was good, she was amazing.

Belinda Bauer – Blacklands - huge issues in a village microcosm, and wonderfully atmospheric.