Review of Our Little Secret, by Roz Nay

oxford

The first half of this story centres round two end of term parties: a high-school graduation party at a lake in Vermont and the next year at a May Ball in Oxford – surprisingly with three of the same characters present at both. You’ve read Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, so you know at least vicariously that a May Ball is about as close to being in a fairy tale as you can come and still be more or less in real life. Unlike in Gaudy Night tho’, in Our Little Secret the May Ball results not in a betrothal but a betrayal. Like the ball, this novel skirts just along the edge separating realistic fiction from dark fantasy. The principal character is Angela Petitjean aka Little John or LJ. Her high-school love is a swimmer known as HP (which kept me thinking of steak sauce and a rather sleazy British prime minister), standing for Hamish Parker tho’ he tries to keep his first name hidden. (Probably not a whole lot of people in Vermont who know it’s derived from the vocative case form of the Gaelic version of James.) LJ’s father supposedly has a friend who could pull the necessary strings to get her a place at Hertford College. I found that most unbelievable (unless he were senior tutor or something) and equally unlikely that LJ resided there but a year, especially after an Australian blonde named Saskia snatched HP off to Sydney. Instead, LJ takes an implausible job in the town library as an archivist. A few years later they’re all back in Vermont, with HP and Saskia married with a little girl named Olive for whom LJ babysits. But as the story opens, Saskia has disappeared and LJ is the prime suspect. She is being interviewed at the police station by Detective Novak, who keeps asking open-ended questions to which he gets even more expansive answers which provides the substance of the book. Even if we’re not already suspecting that LJ may be a burrito shy of the combination platter, under the circumstances anyone would likely become a somewhat unreliable narrator. Thanks to Oxford, there’s also an Englishman in the story named Freddy, who reminded me that Hertford was Evelyn Waugh’s college because Freddy talks like a minor character in Brideshead Revisited. (I have never heard anyone in real life say, ‘I’m feeling peckish’!) Both the moral guilt of the villain and the villain’s fate seemed ambiguous to me, but then I’m very broadminded about victims who need killing and very biased towards the defence in criminal cases. But especially in the earlier sections, LJ shone for me as bright as a new penny, the perfect high-school sweetheart and with HP composing the ideal couple. Like in a fairy tale (as LJ alludes later) a wicked witch enters to part the lovers, tho’ readers may differ as to which character plays which role and whether they change partners. It’s clear from her bio and Q&A that Roz Nay is an international sophisticate and the range of characters and settings pushed my limits of credulity a bit. But then we’ve had so many psychological thrillers about teenagers in small American towns, that it was a pleasure to spend a year at Oxford and have a character who ‘stalked strine’ in an unputdownable fast read.

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