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Authors: Alex Marwood

The Darkest Secret

BOOK: The Darkest Secret
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

‘This incredible story will play on your mind. Two weeks after I read it, I can't stop thinking about it. The book of the year'

‘It's the most gripping novel I've read in years. Dark, haunting, thought-provoking, brilliant – I couldn't recommend it more' India Knight

‘That Marwood is a journalist tells in the details of the investigation but the real, palpable tension in the story comes from the brilliant realisation of the characters' Denise Mina

‘Dark, twisty and full of good surprises and insights. Marwood has delivered a compelling debut crime novel'
Daily Mail

‘Genuinely disturbing and emotionally unsettling.
The Wicked Girls
is irresistible' Val McDermid

‘Real, chilling, true to its world and its characters. In short, a knock-out' Laura Lippman

‘Tense, twisty and brimming with revelation, Alex Marwood's
The Wicked Girls
offers everything you dream for in a suspense novel' Megan Abbott


Praise for
The Killer Next Door

‘If you read Alex Marwood's
The Wicked Girls
, her new one –
The Killer Next Door
– is even better. Scary as hell. Great characters' Stephen King

‘Even better than her debut
The Wicked Girls
. It's a compulsive, unsettling read that will leave you wondering how well you really know your neighbours'

‘Utterly gripping; Marwood's ability to show the sinister side of everyday life is unparalleled' Jenny Colgan

‘Both brilliantly dark and dazzlingly funny, this is crime writing at its best' Lisa Jewell

‘A clever, beautifully crafted novel that will forever shake your view of bedsit suburbia… Disturbing, dark… A psychological thriller of the highest order'
Crime Review

Alex Marwood is the pseudonym of a journalist who has worked extensively across the British press. She is the author of the word-of-mouth sensation
The Wicked Girls
, which won a prestigious Edgar Award, and
The Killer Next Door, which won the Macavity award.
She has been shortlisted for numerous crime writing awards and both novels have been optioned for the screen. Alex lives in south London.



Published by Sphere




All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.


Copyright © Alex Marwood 2016


The moral right of the author has been asserted.


All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.


The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.



Little, Brown Book Group

Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London, EC4Y 0DZ

The Darkest Secret

Table of Contents

For Sally and Bunny Frankland

With love

I pray you, in your letters,

When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,

Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,

Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak

Of one that lov'd not wisely but too well.

William Shakespeare,

When a man marries his mistress, he creates a vacancy.

James Goldsmith

Ooh, this one's been a hard one to write, so I not only owe a lot of people for the contributions they've made, which, as always with a book, are far greater than most people realise, but for the patience, thoughtfulness and emotional generosity with which they've put up with the moaning and the groaning. I feel hugely blessed, both by the brilliant team of brains and creativity on both sides of the pond that have brought this book to pass, and the amazing team of friends and family who keep the lights on in my life.

First up, as always, Laetitia Rutherford, agent of my dreams. God, you're amazing.

In the UK, at Sphere: Cath Burke, whose talent for cat-herding and clever adjustments is unsurpassed, Thalia Proctor, Hannah Wood, Emma Williams, Kirsteen Astor. And also Linda McQueen. This probably isn't something that's often said by writers, but I've never had copy edits that actually made me laugh out loud before.

In the US, at Penguin: Emily Murdock Baker and Angie Messina, who have not only made an art form of guiding and supporting a foreigner through the mystical realm (and the things Americans would notice that Brits just wouldn't), but who are also splendid, talented and thoroughly stand-up individuals.

Erin Mitchell, worker of quiet miracles, source of much laughter and a brilliant friend.

Mum and Bunny, Will, Cathy, Ali, David, Elinor, Tora, Archie and Geordie, who are the light of my life.

Lauren Milne Henderson, AKA Rebecca Chance, who handed over absurdly generous amounts of her time and her celebrated plotting skillz at a point where I thought I was completely stuck and kick-started the whole book back into life. This is why writers need other writers. Seriously: if you're a writer and don't have some bezzies who are also writers, get some now.

There's someone out there who has cause to thank Robert and Maria Gavila for helping them through the winter with their generous donation to Authors for Nepal. I also have to thank them for donating their names to me. Names are surprisingly hard to come by, and theirs are just glorious.

Enid Shelmerdine, Valerie Laws and Angela Collings for the illuminating discussions on you-know-what. I hope you like what eventually came out at the other end!

Patricia Mackesy, who is one brave woman and a fine example of grace under fire.

My FLs; god how I love you. Thank you for proving my point.

The Board. I know we're not there all that much these days, but you carried me through and are always in my heart.

My friends (in no particular order) John Lyttle, Brian Donaghey, Jane Meakin, Charlie Standing, Nickie Schrager, Joce Buxton, Joe and Janet Camilleri, Antonia Willis for the Dingli cliffs and so much more. And oh dear, I'm going to forget someone, but Merri Cheyne, John Amaechi, Paul Burston, Alex Hopkins, Jo Johnston Stewart, Venetia Phillips, Diana Pepper, Ariel Lagunas, Helen Smith, Linda Innes (oh, yes!), Marie Causey, Rowan Coleman, Jayne Rogers, Sarah Hilary, Claudia Clare, Chris Manby, Jenny Colgan, Lisa Jewell, Jojo Moyes, James O'Brien, Lucy MacDonald, Jules Burke… if you're not on this list, don't think it's because I don't love you.

Stephen King, who has always been a huge inspiration, but has made a personal difference to my life that is incalculable. What a mensch.

Baloo Mackesy for being a little sod and the most entertaining of muses.

And finally, my lovely father, Piers Mackesy, who I will miss forever.



TO: Client, Media, Contacts


DATE: 31 August 2004

ATT: Coco.jpg, bracelet.jpg

Dear all –

Apologies for the general email, but I desperately need your help.

My goddaughter, Coco Jackson, disappeared from her family's holiday home in Bournemouth on the night of Sunday/Monday August 29th/30th, the bank holiday weekend just gone. Coco is three years old.

All police experience suggests that the first forty-eight hours are crucial in cases of child abduction, so time is of the essence. If you would please, please forward this email to everyone you think might respond and pass it on, we can raise awareness of Coco's plight and increase the chances of her being brought safely home.

Coco is three feet tall and has blonde hair cut just above shoulder length with a fringe. She has pale colouring, though after the summer she has a light tan and a marked line of freckles across her nose. She has blue eyes and darker, clearly defined eyebrows. She was wearing SpongeBob pyjamas when she disappeared.

Vitally, she was also wearing a christening bracelet which Robert and I gave her, which was designed to be hard to get off, so her abductor might not yet have done so. It's made in 22-carat gold, hallmarked, and has a pattern of hearts etched around the outer surface and her name and date of birth (11.07.01) etched on the inside.

I attach a photo of Coco taken this weekend on her family holiday, and of the matching bracelet worn by her twin sister.

Please, please forward this to as many people as you can. I cannot stress how important this is, or how grateful we will be. Coco's parents are distraught and we are all desperately worried.

If you read this email and think you may have seen her, even if it's only a suspicion, please call Sgt Nathalie Morrow of the Bournemouth CID on 555-6724, or contact me directly. We are all desperate. Please help us.





Emilia Pereira

Family nanny

17 September 2004

I want to start by saying that Mrs Jackson fired me the Wednesday before they went away and I wasn't even there. She fired me because she was mad about her husband. She thought every woman who came near him was going to try to take him, but I was not. I thought he was creepy. Always standing too near, asking things like did I have a boyfriend, looking for reasons to touch me. I am not surprised she was suspicious, but it should not have been me she was suspicious of.

I went to stay with my friend Lisa Mendes in Stevenage after she sacked me, because she didn't give me any notice, just my wages in cash and an order to pack my bags, and I had nowhere to go. I was sleeping on Lisa's floor and waiting for a flight back to Lisbon, when Coco disappeared and you arrested me as though I was a criminal. I have not been near the Sandbanks house in the six months since Mr Jackson bought it. I think they did spend one weekend there, before the builders moved in, but they came back early, in very bad moods, so I was surprised when he chose to have his birthday there. I would have expected Dubai or somewhere like that, if you understand what I mean.

What I know is that Mr Jackson's fiftieth birthday was happening that weekend and he had been planning a big party down at the beach house for months. Then he changed his mind about a month before – I think maybe he realised people did not want to come all that way – and planned the big party for London and a smaller one on the weekend itself. In a way it was a relief when Mrs Jackson sacked me, as I know what their parties are like and I would have been working twenty-four-hour days over the long weekend. They had their friends coming, and these are not people who like their children to interfere with their fun. In fact, if she had not sacked me, I had been planning to leave anyway as these are not good people.

I have worked for them for three years, since soon after the twins were born, but, as I said, they are not good people. I stayed because they paid well, but I never liked Mrs Jackson. She is lazy and vain and unfriendly. After three years she still did not know when my birthday was, or anything about me, really. She never talked to me, or asked questions, just criticised and gave orders. She didn't do anything all day with the time she had free because of me apart from go to salons and shops and get ready to go out with him in the evening. They were always out, when he was in London. They lived in restaurants, but she never seemed grateful for everything she had because of him. And when he was away she was always in a temper, constantly texting him and shutting herself away in her room. I think she did love the little girls, but in the end she always chose to do whatever he wanted to do, and never spent much time with them. I don't know. Maybe that's how rich people are, but I don't understand why you would have children and not want to be with them.

I would not have stayed as long as I did, but I was very fond of the little girls. That anybody would even think that I did Coco any harm makes me red with anger. I did not even get a chance to say goodbye to them when she sacked me, and now I feel terrible as it was the last time I would ever see Coco.

I went to Stevenage on Wednesday afternoon and stayed there until Tuesday when the police turned up on my friend's doorstep. I was in the company of other people most of the time – I have some friends in the area and I wanted to spend time with them before I went back to Portugal – and was never alone for long enough that I could have gone to Bournemouth and back without someone noticing. I have no idea what took place at the Jackson house over the weekend, and have no idea what has happened to Coco Jackson.



Janusz Bieda


Taken by Krakow police

Translated 15 September 2004

I did not know the Jackson family. I only met Mr Jackson three times. I was working, with Karol Niemiec, Tomasz Zdanowicz and my brother Gabriel Bieda, installing a swimming pool at Seawings, the house next door to Harbour View. We had been working there for a week and the project was running over as the pool was custom-made with a portrait of the owner as a merman and had to be installed in one piece by crane and digging the hole to fit it had turned out to be more difficult than had been thought as it went below the water table. We had had to source and hire pumping equipment, and the job was spilling over into the weekend.

Mr Jackson and his friends arrived on Thursday afternoon, and by Friday he was already around complaining about the noise. We thought it was funny, as we know that he had builders in all summer at Harbour View and did not care about the neighbours one bit. On Saturday morning he came again and asked how long we would be working and, when we told him that the work would probably run into the evening, he explained that he was having a party for his birthday and offered us a significant sum of money to suspend work until the following afternoon. As the crane could not be returned until Tuesday once work ran over on Friday, because of the bank holiday, we agreed, and split the money between us. My brother and I were due to return to Poland for a month with our families as soon as the job was finished, and Karol and Tomasz were happy to stay the extra couple of days to finish off the sealing and paving and oversee the return of the crane equipment before they followed us. We spent Saturday shopping for presents for our families and came back before lunch on Sunday. The Jacksons' house was quiet, but this did not surprise us as Mr Jackson had indicated that they intended to stay up late at his party.

He came back on Sunday afternoon, soon after we started work, and gave me a bottle of whisky to thank me for delaying the works. He had Coco with him. Her sister had been sick in the night and was not with them. They both looked happy and relaxed, and he was much friendlier than he had been before. She was a lovely little girl, dressed in pink, and, though she was a little shy, she warmed up and seemed happy.

The work went smoothly, and Gabriel and I made the 11.30 ferry from Portsmouth on Sunday night, leaving Bournemouth around 8 p.m. We have the tickets still, and I am sure CCTV will confirm that we were on board. It was not until the following evening that Karol telephoned and told us what had happened. They were putting the pointing between the paving stones around the pool on Monday morning when the commotion began next door, and, as they had started work around 6 a.m. in order to catch up, he estimated that this will have been some time around 10.30 a.m. I am sorry that I cannot be of more help, but, as you see, I had left the country when the child went missing. We are all shocked that you would even think that we might be involved.

The last time I saw Coco Jackson was on Sunday afternoon. From a distance, the girls looked well cared for and healthy, though I only actually spoke to Coco. But I saw the other one and she too seemed fine. Mr Jackson was clearly a devoted father, and held Coco constantly by the hand as he talked to us.



Charles Clutterbuck


Taken by Metropolitan Police

3 September 2004

… Imogen and I went to bed sometime around three, and when we got up again at eleven on the Sunday we found that there had been another altercation between Claire and Sean and she had departed for London. Neither of us was particularly concerned. The marriage has always been a fiery one and this is hardly the first time she has swept off in high dudgeon. The truth is that, strictly
entre nous
, we felt that he had made a mistake in divorcing his first wife, who was at least not offensive, and marrying her. She's not an educated woman, if you get my drift, and has a terrific talent for taking offence. I know my wife is godmother to Ruby, but Imogen and I have for some time been thinking that we might be wise to back off a bit from them. I know it sounds harsh, but one's political career can be damaged by the people whose company one keeps, and I have a responsibility to my party not to bring it into disrepute.

Sean was clearly chastened when the twins and the Orizio children got up, and we all spent the day quietly. In the afternoon we packed the children off to the Neptune's Kingdom water park with the mothers who had seen fit to stay around, my wife, Imogen, and the Gavilas' teenage daughter, and parked Ruby, who was a little under the weather, in front of the DVD player with a box set of something:
Dora the Explorer
, I think. It never occurred to any of us that there was anything odd about the fact that the twins' mother hadn't bothered to take them to London with her: frankly it seemed par for the course. As I said, she's a flouncer, and probably believed she was teaching him some kind of lesson. And I suppose we were all more or less hung over and not thinking particularly clearly. We spent most of the afternoon in the drawing room, eating leftovers and reading the weekend papers. There had been a threat that some scandal might erupt at the party, and I was relieved to see no sign of it.

The other children returned around five o'clock. They were somewhat fractious, not surprisingly, as it had been a long weekend, and we barely survived tea, bath and bedtime. They were all in bed by eight, and, clearly tired out, slept right through, all of them. The Orizio children were sleeping on air mattresses in their parents' bedroom, and the Gavilas' had been out in the annexe over the weekend, though they left to return to London by boat that evening. Coco and Ruby were sharing the single bed in the maid's room on the ground floor. They have both taken up night-wandering recently, and we all felt it was safer to keep them away from the open stairs, which are really not designed with toddlers in mind. Sean had a wireless baby alarm in the room with him, but he heard nothing in the night and, when the fact that Coco was missing was discovered, it transpired that it had been switched off at some point over the weekend without his noticing.

My driver came and collected Imogen and me at 8.30 on Bank Holiday Monday, and we were back at the London house by 10.30. We got up and breakfasted and left before anyone else was up. It never occurred to us to look in the twins' room; we were busy and running late as it was. I was in my Westminster office catching up on preparation for the new parliamentary term when you called, soon before the first bulletins made the early evening news…

BOOK: The Darkest Secret
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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