Grieving for the loss of her stillborn son and the break up of her relationship with her partner, Sarah goes on holiday to Sicily with her sister and brother-in-law. While there, Sarah meets the brooding Alexander who seems to be on holiday alone with his young son, Jamie, and they have a brief but intense fling. Believing they will go their separate ways, Sarah is astounded when Alexander offers her a job as housekeeper and nanny to Jamie who is going through a hard time after his mother left. Looking for a fresh start, Sarah readily accepts despite the misgivings of her family who believe she is running away from her issues instead of facing them.
When Sarah moves into Avalon, the house Alexander shared with his wife, she learns Genevieve has gone missing under mysterious circumstances and people in the village believe Alexander had something to do with her disappearance. Something of a local celebrity, Genevieve, loomed large in the consciousness of the villagers and they don’t take too kindly to Sarah moving into Avalon less than a month after Genevieve’s disappearance. As the investigation into the disappearance intensifies, Sarah suddenly finds herself at the centre of attention from the media and her sense of isolation increases when she is shunned by the locals. Sarah begins to have doubts over Alexander’s innocence when he behaves erratically and when strange things happen at Avalon, Sarah is sure Genevieve is trying to warn her.
The Secrets Between Us is a gothic thriller which borrows heavily from Rebecca but Douglas is nowhere in the same league as Daphne du Maurier when it comes to creating a sinister atmosphere. The beginning of the books are similar in that Sarah meets a mysterious man on holiday and agrees to return to his home despite the fact he is a perfect stranger which is itself unbelievable. As expected, Alexander seems to be a different man at Avalon and his refusal to discuss the subject of Genevieve increases Sarah’s suspicion. The fact that Alexander and Sarah never discuss personal matters is absolutely infuriating to me as a reader and a lazy way of having them keep secrets from each other. Would two people sleeping together really behave in this way? Since both have suffered their own traumas, they should be able to rely on each other as a source of strength but I guess that wouldn’t be as dramatic.
Not long after arriving at Avalon, Sarah can’t seem to escape Genevieve as she is everywhere and her disappearance is all anyone talks about, apart from Alexander of course, and Sarah starts to resent the other woman. When mysterious things begin to happen at Avalon, Sarah becomes convinced Genevieve’s presence is somehow in the house and while the events seem sinister in the beginning, Sarah eventually comes to realise Genevieve is trying to help her. Whether Genevieve is haunting the house or not is open to interpretation as Sarah’s mental health is called into question more than once, however there is enough doubt there for the reader to go either way. The problem is Avalon is no Mandalay and I just did not feel the gothic atmosphere of the house in the way the author intended.
There are plenty of twists and turns in the plot but none of them are a huge surprise and it is pretty obvious from the start Alexander is not the guilty party although he seems intent to fall on his sword. Alexander’s attitude to Genevieve is hard to fathom as he professes to have been deeply in love with her but at the same time he doesn’t seem to be anxious enough about her disappearance. Sarah manages to find plenty evidence in the house that Genevieve didn’t disappear of her own accord, yet no one else seems to have done a proper search, including the police. Sarah’s subsequent investigation with her brother-in-law, Neil, who is a journalist, also makes the police look rather inept as he finds the information needed to clear Alexander far too easily. Although I don’t mind characters being one step ahead of the authorities, I’m not fond of novels that make the police look too incompetent.