Desperate Lives and Deep, Dark Secrets
The real problem with getting into trouble, as almost every five-year-old knows, is getting back out of it... and the bigger that trouble is, the worse one’s chances of doing so are.
Not that understanding the odds seems to matter much; most of us still manage to get into varying degrees of trouble more often than we ought. It’s the particular sub-groups our troubles generally tend to fall under, though, which can determine the courses our lives will take... from the usually-fixable “sticky situations” and “misunderstandings”, to the unfortunate (and somewhat-more-awkward) instances of “wrong place, wrong time”, all the way to major violations of the law (clearly the worst of the bunch, and definitely best avoided).
Hot on the heels of last year’s brilliant debut The Poison Tree (see my review for it, here ), author Erin Kelly takes a look at all sorts of trouble--and the multitude of repercussions--in her fabulous follow-up, The Dark Rose.
Louisa Trevelyan is a quiet, unassuming woman living a simple, solitary life, but that hasn’t always been the case. These days, her passion involves plants--particularly the designing of lush, new gardens and the renovating of old, stately ones to their former glory--but greenery was the very last thing on her mind twenty years ago. Then, Louisa was a rebellious young girl hellbent on rejecting the silver spoon she’d been born with, and was obsessed with only one thing: the beautiful, fascinating boy who was lead singer in a local band.
When her desperation for acceptance--into the coolly-seductive music scene, in general, and into the heart and life of sexy singer Adam Glasslake, in particular--finally led to her saying and doing things she would forever after wish unsaid and undone, though, everything underwent a drastic sea change. Louisa transformed herself almost overnight, altering her appearance and running off to study plants at school, leaving London, her friends and family, and the previously-alluring world of music far behind... and starting the long, unpleasant, and lonely task of keeping safe one very deep, dark secret.
Paul Seaforth is at a crossroads. A boy of nineteen, on the eve of going off to college to pursue a teaching degree and leaving an unhappy past behind, he unexpectedly finds himself in custody at the local police station, accused of having a hand in the murder of an elderly man. The only way out of his predicament? To rat on his old chum Daniel, a kid who took Paul under his wing several years earlier, protecting him from neighborhood bullies when they were younger... and eventually leading him into his present life of petty crime.
Although most of the affection Paul once held for Daniel is long gone (especially after the last escapade went so horribly wrong), the fact is that Daniel--and Daniel’s no-good father--scare Paul, and testifying against the volatile, dangerous Daniel seems unlikely to result in anything good for Paul’s own health and well-being (or that of his fragile mother, whom Daniel has threatened to hurt).
The cops offer a solution: Daniel can go into a type of witness protection/community service program for safety. He will immediately cut off all ties with everyone he knows--which is primarily his widowed mum and her new husband, an ex-girlfriend (who wants nothing to do with him, anyway), and obviously Daniel and his father--then take a long bus ride halfway across England to a distant (safe) locale where he will live and work until the court date. Paul isn’t crazy about the plan, but he doesn’t really have much choice.
Paul’s new digs (hehe, double meaning there, as you’ll soon see) are in a tiny, out-of-the-way hamlet, and his new job is a daily bus ride away to an even-more remote location. He’s the newest member of a small group of “troubled youths” getting a “second chance” via participation in a labor-intensive work-study program. In their case, that involves a lot of digging and hauling; they’ll be clearing out a decades-overgrown garden at an ancient estate, then helping to recreate the Tudor garden which once graced its grounds... under the tutelage of none other than esteemed garden designer Louisa Trevelyan.
When Louisa first sets eyes on her newest young recruit, however, all thoughts of her fabulous current project momentarily disappear, as she’s transported back to her own youth and that briefly-magical time in 1989 when she was obsessed with Adam and being a part of his world. The new lad--Paul, she has to keep telling herself--looks so much like Adam that it’s uncanny, and Louisa is nonplussed.
Paul--busy getting to know his fellow junior garden laborers and the past transgressions which landed them there--doesn’t think much one way or the other about Louisa, at first, aside from viewing her as one of his bosses on the site. Before long, though, he notices a few things that make him curious about her, and he gradually stops thinking of her as an “older” woman and sees her, instead, as an interesting one.
From that point, it’s only a tiny step--on a particularly lonely, needy night--to fall into a passionate affair... one which gives each of them yet another secret to keep hidden.
What they find, though, is that secrets--no matter how long held--do not like to remain hidden... and that the real power of a secret is in how cruelly it can be used against oneself.
The Dark Rose is flat-out pure psychological suspense of the first order. Told in one of my absolute favorite styles--a non-linear re-telling which hops back and forth between decades as well as points-of-view--the full story takes its sweet time getting to where it needs to go. By so doing, author Kelly never lets us suspect too much; we know exactly what the characters would have us know--and little else--at any given time.
And such characters she’s given us... painfully easy to identify with, for anyone who has once upon a time been nineteen. The freedom and constraints, warring against each other; craving the respect of adulthood, while in many ways still a callow youth; the all-consuming passions, colliding with reality; desperately clinging to big dreams, only to come to the crushing realization they will never come true... all that and more is here, allowing us to feel empathy for Louisa and Paul... and to understand why the things that happen must happen.