Book Review

Dirty Little Secrets by Jo Spain

dirty little secrets

I loved Jo Spain’s previous standalone novel, The Confession, and so I was desperate to read her latest offering as soon as I heard about it.

Six neighbours, six secrets, six reasons to want Olive Collins dead.

In the exclusive gated community of Withered Vale, people’s lives appear as perfect as their beautifully manicured lawns. Money, success, privilege – the residents have it all. Life is good.

There’s just one problem.

Olive Collins’ dead body has been rotting inside number four for the last three months. Her neighbours say they’re shocked at the discovery, but nobody thought to check on her when she vanished from sight.

The police start to ask questions and the seemingly flawless facade begins to crack. Because, when it comes to Olive’s neighbours, it seems each of them has something to hide, something to lose and everything to gain from her death.

Dirty Little Secrets is set in a gated community just outside of Wicklow.  Withered Vale is a small yet diverse community, with its residents holding a wide variety of careers, yet united in their relative affluence.  While it seems as though they should get on, it quickly becomes apparent that they are largely strangers to one another, with only Olive trying to make friends, with varying degrees of success and generally being considered a busy body.  So it’s not entirely surprising when the body of Olive is discovered some 3 months after her death, no one having missed her, even if they noted her absence.

Suspecting foul play, the police begin to question the small community, believing the murderer to be one of the residents of Withered Vale.  It’s a narrow pool of suspects, and this is a feature that I absolutely love in a novel.  Spain has taken a classic concept and given it a fresh new twist, and I thought that the setting of a gated community worked brilliantly.  The investigation gets off to a slow start as they question Olive’s neighbours – interviews that raise more questions than answers as they begin to uncover the many secrets that the residents would rather keep hidden.  From the man having a casual relationship with Olive, to the woman who felt that Olive was taking advantage of her kindness, it soon becomes apparent that Olive had various disagreements with the other residents at one time or another.  Could any of them have killed her though?

Dirty Little Secrets is a novel that moves quickly, as the police interview the residents and begin to understand the community in more detail.  It’s told from a variety of perspectives, but the voices are so distinct that it’s never confusing as to who is the focus.  It is a small community where everyone has something to hide, and while some of these secrets are revealed quickly, others take much longer to be understood.  I couldn’t turn the pages quickly enough to get to the bottom of the mystery.  Olive, despite being dead, also puts her own view point in.  It might sound odd, but I thought that Olive’s chapters worked brilliantly.  The tone is so matter of fact, and it was interesting to get her perspective on events, as well as additional insight into the many secrets of the residents and how they all got on.  Olive knew a lot of details about those around her, and isn’t shy in putting her opinions forward.

While it seems as though this is a novel that should focus on the investigation and the residents of Withered Vale, I loved getting to know Frank and Emma, the investigating officers, in more detail.  Frank is close to retirement while Emma is relatively new to her role, and I thought that the pair worked brilliantly together.  They have their difficulties, but I loved the way in which their working relationship developed over the course of the novel as they began to communicate and to understand each other.

Dirty Little Secrets is a novel that kept me guessing right to the very end.  Highly recommended for those wanting a complex crime with a small cast of deeply flawed suspects to pick from.

Dirty Little Secrets was published by Quercus in February and is available in hardback and digital formats.

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