Sunday 15 October 2017

Her Last Secret by Barbara Copperthwaite: Review

A lifetime can flash by in a moment. A moment can last a lifetime.

Her Last Secret opens on Christmas morning in an affluent residential area of London. Shockingly, gunshots have been heard from number fifteen Burgh Road, the home of Benjamin and Dominique Thomas and their two daughters, Ruby and Amber. Clearly, something terrible has happened, but what - and who could be capable of it? As police officers cautiously approach the house, the narrative moves back eight days to follow the Thomas family in the period leading up to the events.

The father of the family, Benjamin, is arrogant and status-oriented, focused on impressing others with the success and material trappings (the Rolex, the Mercedes...) of an alpha male. He's not yet living the lifestyle to which he feels entitled, though  - after all, he only has one Mercedes. But Benjamin's bombastic exterior hides some deep insecurities - and a ticking time bomb of a secret which could bring it all crashing down.

Meanwhile his under pressure wife Dominique, feeling increasingly isolated from her husband and despised by her elder daughter, fears the resurgence of a frightening problem from her past. Dominique is often referred to as a doormat, letting her husband get away with far too much. But what would it take for her to finally snap?

Troubled fifteen-year-old Ruby has more going on in her life than her parents have any idea of. They predictably disapprove of her council-estate-dwelling boyfriend Harry, but have no notion of the true scale of Ruby's problems and in quite how dark a direction her thoughts are heading.

Then there's eight-year-old Amber, known as Mouse due to her quiet nature and tendency to hide in corners reading. (Like a mouse - only without the reading.) The most obviously innocent, lovable and vulnerable member of the family, it's Mouse we fear for most, even as she escapes into her own fantasy world where everyone is finally happy.

On the fringes of this not-so-happy family are Ruby's boyfriend Harry, Dominique's oldest friend Fiona, Benjamin's business partner Jazmine, and a frankly idiotic young woman named Kendra.

Interspersed with this narrative are snippets of the police cautiously approaching and entering the house. It's an effective technique which builds a sense of mounting tension for the reader about what they are going to find. As the officers move further through the house, the nature and scale of the disaster is gradually revealed... Or is it?

Her Last Secret (as a Sherlock fan, the title recalls His Last Vow - whether intentionally or not, I'm not sure) is a very gripping and enjoyable read. There are a few awkward turns of phrase ("her fellow peers") but generally the writing flows naturally. The characterisation is very well done and I particularly enjoyed, if that's the right word, the strand of the plot following Ruby and Harry. The tension becomes almost unbearable at times, and as the story reaches its culmination there are some genuinely emotional, even heartbreaking moments.

This is the first book I have read by Barbara Copperthwaite and on the strength of this I will certainly seek out her others. Recommended.

Review also published on NetGalley. Many thanks to the publishers for the opportunity to read and review.

Barbara  Copperthwaite is the author of four psychological crime novels, of which Her Last Secret is the most recent. She has worked as a journalist on national newspapers and magazines.

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