Newest review: A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams

By Ekta R. Garg

June 16, 2021

Genre: Psychological thriller

Release date: June 8, 2021

Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars

After her mother’s suicide, a young woman struggles to deal with what happened. When she discovers a secret her mother held, the woman gets tangled in an ongoing police investigation and must try to figure out what responsibility, if any, she has toward the situation. Author Jen Williams frightens readers in the best ways meant in the genre with her newest novel A Dark and Secret Place.

Heather Evans is fighting to accept her new reality. A reality where her mother has committed suicide in a gruesome way—by throwing herself off a cliff—and left few clues behind as to why she would do such a thing. Heather didn’t even have an inkling of any distress in her mother’s life, but, then again, she and her mother didn’t exactly speak that frequently.

In fact, after the sudden death of her father when she was 16, Heather and her mother seemed to fight about everything. When she couldn’t take it anymore, Heather left home. After that she and her mother, Colleen, only spoke on family occasions and the holidays during awkward, tense conversations that lasted mere minutes. Now there’s this, her mother’s death, with no explanation at all.

The situation becomes even harder to handle when Heather starts going through her mother’s personal items and discovers dozens of letters hidden away. The letters are from a prisoner serving a life sentence for multiple murders in a case that shocked everyone in England. The man, Michael Reave, has always claimed he was innocent, but the available evidence named him guilty. The media named him the Red Wolf.

Heather contacts the police about the letters, and DI Ben Parker has an unusual request for her. He wants Heather to come to the prison and talk to Michael about a new spate of murders that has begun. Someone is attacking young women again, copying the Red Wolf’s signature ritualistic killing style, and Parker believes Michael is connected to the killings even though he’s still in prison.

Despite her reluctance, Heather agrees. She wants to know why her mother was writing to Michael and why they shared this secret relationship no one else knew about. Although she was dismissed from her last job as a reporter, Heather’s instincts kick in as she tries to get Michael to share some scrap of information that will help the police catch the new killer.

Yet Heather can’t help feeling like the crimes of the Red Wolf as well as those of the copycat criminal are both connected directly to her somehow. She discovers more of Colleen’s secrets, making her question what she knew about her mother. In time Heather realizes she won’t get any peace until she helps solve the case.

Author Jen Williams takes full advantage of everything the psychological thriller genre has to offer, which will make readers squirm in discomfort and also keep flipping or swiping pages. Heather’s newfound melancholy at not knowing her mother like she thought she did is grounded and three-dimensional. Readers will identify with her grief and confusion as she tries to navigate both.

While some of the tropes of the genre might feel a little trite—the customary romantic entanglement; weird signs that show up meant only to scare Heather and not really offer clues to the larger mystery—Williams doesn’t lean too heavily on those things to drive her mystery forward. The book’s strength lies in the fact that the characters are fully developed, fully realized people. By mixing generational angst with modern-day trappings, Williams has found the perfect blend of the times to offer a compelling plot.

The climax feels just a touch rushed, but Williams offers a careful, thoughtful explanation for everything. Readers will have no trouble racing through the book, and its pall will linger afterward. I recommend readers Bookmark A Dark and Secret Place.

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