dark and secret place jen williams
Book Review / Jen Williams / Reviews with Spoilers

Jen Williams | A Dark and Secret Place

dark and secret place jen williams

The Book: 

A Dark and Secret Place by Jen Williams, 2021

The Characters: 

Heather Evans, freelance writer
Her mother Colleen, who has just committed suicide
Michael Reave, the accused serial killer
DI Ben Parker, the detective


The Plot (from Goodreads):

When prodigal daughter Heather Evans returns to her family home after her mother’s baffling suicide, she makes an alarming discovery–stacks and stacks of carefully preserved letters from notorious serial killer Michael Reave. The “Red Wolf,” as he was dubbed by the press, has been in prison for over twenty years, serving a life sentence for the gruesome and ritualistic murders of several women across the country, although he has always protested his innocence. The police have had no reason to listen, yet Heather isn’t the only one to have cause to re-examine the murders. The body of a young woman has just been found, dismembered and placed inside a tree, the corpse planted with flowers. Just as the Red Wolf once did.

What did Heather’s mother know? Why did she kill herself? And with the monstrous Red Wolf safely locked inside a maximum security prison, who is stalking young women now? Teaming up with DI Ben Parker, Heather hopes to get some answers for herself and for the newest victims of this depraved murderer. Yet to do that, she must speak to Michael Reave herself, and expose herself to truths she may not be ready to face. Something dark is walking in the woods, and it knows her all too well.

Click here for book spoilers for A Dark and Secret Place
Book spoilers ahead–if you haven’t yet read A Dark and Secret Place, I suggest you turn back now.

As Heather begins to investigate the link between Michael and her mother, she begins to find creepy notes left for her around her house. 

Heather feels responsible for her father’s death, because she was the reason he was so far from help when he had his heart attack. She had tried to rescue a baby bird, and when he found it he was irrationally angry. He was in the park returning the bird when he died. 

Michael killed his mom when he escaped from the cupboard she kept him locked in. A mysterious man finds him, hides his mother’s body, and takes him in. The man seems to teach Michael how to kill without getting caught, and often cleans up after him when he makes mistakes. 

The man invites young people to live on his land in tents and form the commune, which is where Michael meets Colleen. 

Heather and her friend Nikki take a vacation to the location of the old commune. Whoever is stalking Heather follows them, and continues to leave feathers and notes for her. She also finds an old photograph depicting Michael and Colleen as a couple. Judging by the date on the photo, Colleen was already pregnant with Heather when it was taken.

The Twist: 

Heather is woken one night while Nikki is out to the sound of someone creeping around their cottage. She confronts the person, who looks a lot like Lillian, her mother’s neighbor. This woman tells her that Nikki doesn’t have much time. 

Heather goes to Fiddler’s Folly, the building in the picture of her mother and Michael. A man attacks her, and she realizes he is her brother. His name is Lyle. She pushes him down the stairs, then takes his clothes and cuts her hair so that she looks like him, and goes to find Nikki. 

In a flashback, we learn that Colleen ran away to have twins. Michael and the man turned up on her doorstep one night, demanding that she give them their baby. She gave them the boy, but kept Heather as they didn’t know she had twins. 

In the present, Heather still hasn’t found Nikki. She finds Lillian and her sister, who don’t realize she isn’t Lyle until she is close enough to hold a knife to Lillian. They turn out to be the Bickerstaff sisters, who also lived on the commune. They had raised Lyle since Michael was caught. 

Bert was the man who trained Michael to be a killer. He trained Lyle in the same fashion, who was the new Red Wolf. He also owned the Oak Leaf company and used it to keep track of all the children born at Fiddler’s Mill. They were killing all the girls who had been born there and bringing their hearts back to the wood. 

Lyle wasn’t dead; he killed Bert to allow Heather and Nikki to escape. Heather had imagined Bert’s dog. 

The Ending:

Lyle is arrested. Michael agrees to show the police and Heather where the remains of other women are, provided that Heather keeps visiting him (obviously, his claim of innocence was a lie). 

The woman in the red coat was Michael’s sister and mother, raped by his father. That was why his father’s wife hated him and locked him in the cupboard. The sister/mother also abused Michael. 

Colleen killed herself because the old man threatened to come after Heather if Colleen ever told anyone what she knew. She was tired of keeping the secret of the murders, and was guilty about giving Lyle to the “monsters”.

The Review: 

I am a big fan of twisted serial killer tales, and this one will stay with me for a long time. I was drawn in from the first chapter, a “before” section where we first meet Michael. This is the first book in a while that has actually creeped me out. I loved the spooky setting of an old house in the dreary outskirts of London, and the author did a great job of painting a dark, gloomy picture of every situation. 

A Dark and Secret Place brings up haunting thoughts about not really knowing someone you have known your whole life. It is always unsettling to learn facts about a person close to you, such as a parent or spouse, which make you question whether you know them at all. 

I thought Heather was a good protagonist. Her journalism skills served her well as she attempted to uncover the truth about Michael and about what her mother had known. She is clearly trying to reconcile the complicated relationship she had with her mother with how much she misses her now, while also figuring out where this new information fits in. I especially like how she doesn’t take shit from men talking down to her because she’s a woman!

The scenes between Heather and Michael were very well written. Strong Silence of the Lambs vibes here! The way Heather drew Michael out of his shell was fascinating. I thought Michael’s character was really well done, and found myself wanting to know more and more about him. 

The only aspect I disliked was the romance. I don’t think it added anything to the story, and found myself skimming those pages. I think doing away with them would have helped the pace of the book move along a little faster and held my attention better. 

This was my first book by Jen Williams, and it did not disappoint. I definitely will be looking into more of her novels in the future. 

A Dark and Secret Place will be available on June 8, 2021. Many thanks to NetGalley and Crooked Lane Books for providing me with a free eARC in exchange for an honest review. 

Read this if you liked: 

  • The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris
  • The Witch Elm by Tana French
dark and secret place jen williams
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