Dirty Little Secrets has a nice set up. It has a golden-age premise (a closed community which must contain the murderer) but a contemporary setting among affluent professionals.
Their home is a rural gated community outside Wicklow. One of them, Olive, is dead. The police believe the murderer must have been one of the residents and their investigations soon suggest that pretty much everyone had a reason to kill her.
The story is told alternately by the neighbours, and by the deceased Olive herself. This could have come across as whimsical or just plain weird, but her interventions are matter of fact, so it works.
Although the characters are all affluent, they are diverse in age and background, so their experiences and interactions (or lack of) are interesting. There is the tension between the public face and what goes on indoors, and the way that people living only metres apart can have such different experiences. Spain has an easy, engaging writing style and the pages turn nicely.
Why then, did I feel my interest in the story wane as I got further into it? I think it’s partly to do with the structure. Because every character has the same arc, it starts to feel a bit repetitive. Character makes revelation, hints at further dark secrets to come creating hook at end of chapter, next character (usually Olive) reveals what the hook was all about, while setting up further questions…
It also means that some of the revelations feel a bit contrived. (If something deeply personal and traumatic had happened to you that you didn’t want anyone to know about, would you have a photo that references it on your kitchen wall?) I was also a bit disappointed by the ending. It was what I suspected was coming but I hoped I was wrong.
What I liked about Spain’s The Confession was that it took a clever premise and used it to explore some complex issues – in that case the banking crisis and the effects of Ireland’s burgeoning inequality and the attendant corruption on individuals. There were no clear goodies and baddies, the reader was left to work out where responsibility – and their sympathies – lay.
In Dirty Little Secrets, all the characters have ‘issues’ but they feel like they are just there to move on the plot. The characters’ voices and the setting feel oddly generic – this could just as easily be Hertfordshire or upstate New York. There is no sense of a wider critique or ambiguity, that Olive might be a scapegoat or misunderstood. If she was your neighbour, you’d probably want her dead.
Perhaps I’m being unfair, comparing apples and pears. This is an entertaining enough read if you want a twisty mystery and some colourful characters, a slightly edgier Midsomer Murders. Still, it feels like a missed opportunity to me.
I received a copy of Dirty Little Secrets from the publisher via Netgalley.
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