Source: Review copy; Netgalley
Publication: 7th February from Quercus
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.
Jo Spain knows how to write a psychological thriller that makes it hard for ther reader to put it down until the wrong doer is exposed. Part domestic noir, part psychological thriller, Dirty Little Secrets is about how little we know of our neighbours and the lies we tell to make ourselves accepted.
Olive Collins was the first resident of Withered Vale, the curiously named small gated community just outside Wicklow. By all accounts it’s a close knit community, but why then did no-one discover Olive Collins’ body until three months after her death?
D.I. Frank Brazil just wants to put this one to bed so that he can retire and get out of the police force and away from all the depressing work he has been mired in all his working life. Better to get out now and leave the detective work to his partner, the young and fiercely ambitious Emma Child.
But life isn’t ever as easy as that, and as they begin to look into Olive’s death, more and more it seems to be suspicious. Once they start to look into the neighbours to see where a motive might lie, it becomes clear that rather than investigating a wealthy close knit community, they have stumbled into a nest of vipers.
Spain‘s narrative comes from different members of the community and the police officers themselves as she shows us Olive’s life through the eyes of her neighbours and Olive herself.
It turns out that there were many reasons why Olive’s body sat undiscovered for three months. Rather than the likeable 53 year old that police expected to find, the picture thrown up by her neighbours is one where the reader would probably have left her to die alone, too.
Olive is one of those people who was adept at finding other people’s secrets and then using those weaknesses against them. She could see behind the front doors of her neighbours’ houses into their illicit relationships, addictions, secrets and past transgressions.
Jo Spain paints a realistic and often very funny picture of the relationship dynamics behind the couples on this small estate. Once the police start to uncover more detail, it is pretty clear that any number of them could have had motive for sending off this lonely and bitter woman who knew far too much about her neighbours and wasn’t afraid to wield that knowledge like an axe.
Spain gives us a fascinating cast of very well fleshed out characters with whom it is easy for the reader to connect, lending tension to the emotional connection set against the secrets the characters are carrying.
Short chapters and a fast pace coupled with enticing snippets of backstory lend a ‘can’t put down’ quality to the writing and push the reader on to the dénouement, which, whilst not necessarily surprising, is immensely satisfying.
Dirty Little Secrets is a tension fuelled drama full of quirky characters and lots of suspense.
Verdict: Engrossing and suspenseful; meets all the criteria for an unputdownable read.
Jo Spain has worked as a party advisor on the economy in the Irish parliament. Her first novel, With Our Blessing, was one of seven books shortlisted in the Richard and Judy Search for a Bestseller competition and her first psychological thriller. The Confession, was a number one bestseller in Ireland. Joanne lives in Dublin with her husband and their four young children.