‘This is insane,’ I said.
‘I know, right?’
I had thought the view further down had been spectacular, but this was something else. I could see across the whole valley. The trio of mighty glaciers, crowned with ice. The green foothills of the mountains that gave way to the stony valley floor, the river gleaming in the sun. Turning to the south I could see all the way to the coast, a sliver of blue on the far horizon. It was like something from Tolkien. A morbid thought entered my head: when I died, I would be happy to have my ashes scattered here. I’d seen the beaches of Thailand, the forests of California, Tokyo lit up at night from the top of a skyscraper. But this beat all of them.
‘Here,’ Helena said. ‘This is the perfect spot.’
As I’d been marvelling at the beauty around me, Helena had made her way over to the edge of the ridge. Loose rocks lay at her feet; to her left, a boulder came up to her waist.
‘Please,’ I said. ‘Be careful.’
Behind her, the rocks gave way to thin air. Just looking at the drop, at the nothingness beyond the ridge, gave me that feeling in my belly like I’d gone over a bump in the road.
‘It’s fine.’ She held out her phone. ‘Take my picture and then I’ll take one of you.’
I removed my gloves, tucking them into my jacket pocket, and took the phone from her. She stood at the edge of the cliff, facing me. I held up the phone, centring her in the frame, and paused. The backdrop was postcard-perfect, but Helena was still the most beautiful part of this picture. The colour in her cheeks. The pale blue of her eyes. My skin tingled beneath my coat and I felt a little shiver of anticipation, thinking about getting back to the hut, taking off our hats and gloves and—
‘Come on,’ she said. ‘What’s taking so long?’
I smiled to myself.
‘Okay, done,’ I said. ‘Let’s get out of here.’
‘Wait. Let me see.’ She stepped forward and flicked through the pictures. ‘My face looks weird. How can it look weird in all of them?’
‘Helena, your face does not look weird. It’s the exact opposite of weird.’
She rolled her eyes but looked pleased. ‘Can you take a few more?’
I couldn’t shake the sensation of vertigo. The wind was so strong, and the ground so uneven, that although there might not have been any yellow danger signs around, they were flashing inside my head.
‘Please, humour me, okay?’
We were having to raise our voices to be heard above the wind.
‘All right. One more quick batch of pictures and then we go down,’ I said. ‘I don’t—’
‘Fine then, whatever,’ she said. ‘If you don’t want to do it, I’ll take a selfie.’ She marched towards the cliff edge.
I was frozen for a second. Was she being reckless, or was I being a drag? Either way, was it worth our first argument since we’d rekindled our relationship?
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, going after her.
Helena stopped and turned. ‘It’s fine. I just don’t like being told what to do. Lee was always . . .’ She shook her head and said, ‘Come on, take the photo.’
She stepped back up to the cliff edge, a footstep away from the precipice, and turned towards me, the smile back in place, stretching her arms out like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. I stood about ten metres away from her, so I could capture some sense of the scale of this place in the photo.
What happened next took no more than three seconds. But looking back, as I sometimes do now when I’m unable to sleep, I see it unfolding in slow motion. The beginning of all that followed.
As I took the final photo, the phone positioned in front of my face, a gust of wind blasted my back, knocking me a step forward. Something black flew into the frame of the camera – one of my gloves; the gust of wind must have dislodged it from where it hung from my pocket – and it flew towards Helena.
She reacted instinctively. She brought her hands in protectively and stepped backwards as the glove flew into her face, one foot stamping on the ground behind her.
The ground, which crumbled beneath her.
And I watched, helplessly, as she vanished from sight.
An ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances and desperate choices that suddenly have to be made. That’s the premise of Mark Edwards’ latest novel Keep Her Secret. Initially I thought the title referred to ‘her’ being kept hidden, then I realised this never-slowing-down thriller indicates Helena’s secrets. As I got pulled into the twisted perilous story, what became obvious was that sharing a secret, especially a deadly one, impacts anyone who finds out about it.
The fairly ordinary people Matthew and Helena met at college. After their short-lived romance ended, they haven’t seen each other for twenty years. School reunion brought them together again, and suddenly the feelings were back. He was single and she was a widow. They were free to start again. The exciting impulse sent them on their first holiday together straight to windswept magnificent Iceland. Cosmopolitan Reykjavik, new landscapes, wild ponies, volcanoes, geysers, Thórsmörk, the Valley of Thor, glaciers, mountain hikes, nice travel companions, romance, solid tour guide, happiness. Then trying to take the perfect photo to remember the moment, and mindlessly stepping from the cliff edge without looking. But luckily the fall into the abyss didn’t happen. Instead, hanging off the rock face, Helena, shocked and scarred, made a chilling confession.
Back in England Matthew couldn’t stop feeling giddy with happiness, even though he had unexpectedly lost his job and Helena’s admission made him feel unsettled. He wants to be with her and at the same time he is horrified by what she has done, and the reasons that had led to a very drastic action. He understands ‘why’ and ‘how’ but is not sure if he really knows her. He has reservations about getting deeply involved. Then again, surely, they can deal with any past and present issues together… However, they didn’t expect that someone overheard their conversation and now plans to blackmail Helena who still lives in a stunning house on the coast, drives Tesla and enjoys all the small luxuries left after her husband Lee’s death. Of course, ‘enjoyment’ is the word used by those who cannot see what’s behind the wall of guilt, grief and pain. Handsome arrogant Lee was also at the same college as the unfortunate post-Iceland Bonnie and Clyde, and notorious for ‘same smirk, that same air of being superior to everyone else’ he had known how to control people.
As Matthew begins to understand what’s happening when Devon (yes! That name is meant to confuse everyone) turns up at Helena’s home, demands money in return for silence, and in the process sends the couple into the down spiral of events that expose their sense of security, their moral compasses, and their reasoning. There seems to be no stopping of new threats and events that like a domino push Matthew and Helena into ever greater danger. Faced with a question whether anyone should approach police and just deal with consequences, no one wants to make that step. Who’s guilty, who’s reasonable? Do people deserve what comes to them?
Flawed characters, complex plots and relentless tension are Edwards’ trademarks and in Keep Her Secret they again create an intense flowing story of trust and betrayal, and of decisions to protect someone we love. Feelings like horror, fear and thrill mix in the unsettling emotional cocktail.
‘Yes, we were compassionate, reasonable people who had found themselves in a terrible mess. We weren’t coldblooded murderers or kidnappers. We were good people. That was why Helena, who kept telling me to get a grip, appeared to be losing her own grip. She wasn’t some cold, calculating killer. This kindness was the real Helena.’
Keep Her Secret is out now. Thank you to FMcM Associates for the invitation to join the blog tour, and for the opportunity to get so stressed and worried about this modern couple.