One Last Secret
Grade : C

Ever wondered what the classic film Pretty Woman would be like if it was actually a dark noir? Adele Parks provides the answer to that question in her latest thriller One Last Secret.

Dora has always known her job was dangerous. As a high-end call girl, she doesn’t experience the same level of risk as her street worker counterparts, but clients tend to think of those in the sex trade as less than human and treat them accordingly. She’s experienced more than her share of petty abuse, but nothing had prepared her for the beating given by the allegedly carefully vetted new client her handler had connected her with. Dora leaves the expensive hotel where she met him battered and bloody and ready to get out of the game altogether.

And wouldn’t you know it, one look at her bruised, abused face is all it takes for her bestie Evan to propose marriage. They’ve never had sex - it’s been refreshing for Dora to have a friend without benefits in her life - but they are as intimate as two people can be without it. They share nearly everything with each other - Evan is one of the few people who knows just what Dora does for a living, and he loves her anyway. Dora knows all his foibles and hangups, too - and loves him anyway. They come from two different worlds - she’s the daughter of immigrants who had to flee their wartorn homeland, and he’s the son of one of the richest and most powerful men in Britain, but that has never mattered. Several years into their unexpected friendship they’ve found they connect more with each other than they do with their so-called peers. They’ve been circling the idea of taking their relationship to the next level, but Dora is pleasantly surprised and delighted by the fact that Evan is willing to skip the in-between steps of dating and living together to head straight to the altar. She says yes, and just like that, they’re engaged. Evan does demand she quit her job, however, worried there could be another incident like the one she just lived through. Dora also fears a repeat of that experience and is happy to hang up her stilettos and start planning a wedding.

Then Dora gets a call from Daniel. Among her former clients, he was a favorite; he didn’t just come for the sex and the two of them had been friends of sorts. Dora was his confidant for all the things he couldn’t tell those he knew and loved. Daniel had told only her about his secret longing for his best friend’s wife, how said longing had kept him from dating and marrying, how he just couldn’t seem to move on. Now he’s telling her that said bestie, bestie’s wife, and Daniel are all supposed to attend a corporate event at a French chateau. It’s meant to be a luxurious, decadent retreat for couples - and since Daniel has been lying to everyone that he has a significant other, he’s been invited to attend. He absolutely needs Dora to go, because she’s the only female acquaintance he has who knows him well enough to pull off being his fake girlfriend.

Evan will be away for that week on business of his own. Dora doesn’t really want to step back into that world, but somehow, she finds herself grudgingly agreeing on the condition she won’t be expected to have sex with Daniel. But once she arrives at the venue, she receives several nasty surprises, the worst of which is that one of Daniel’s coworkers was the violent customer she’d barely escaped alive from the week before. Just what has she gotten herself into?

To put it mildly, a complicated mess. Dora finds herself playing cat and mouse in an elaborate revenge plot the type of which I am fairly certain you can only find in fiction. It’s hard to sympathize with Dora as she discovers herself in deep trouble because it is obvious from the very beginning that taking this trip with Daniel is a colossally dumb mistake.

The story is told in the first person for the most part, which might have helped readers better understand some of Dora’s foolish choices but the author doesn’t use her narration to good effect. Rather than allowing us to sympathize with our heroine falling into trap after trap by giving us reasons for her to be that naïve, we instead are simply given a front-row seat to Dora behaving stupidly. This was disappointing since at the start of the novel, Dora is presented as a tough, savvy, worldly-wise woman who knows what's what. Once she joins Daniel on his trip, she becomes an ingénue style of character, which really doesn’t fit with her previous persona.

The other characters in the novel don’t fare much better. Daniel and Evan are the secondary key players and are simply whatever the plot needs them to be. On the plus side, Daniel’s inexplicable and superficial nature is explained toward the end of the text. Evan, however, is simply surreal throughout the novel. We know he adores Dora and that they are emotionally close, but while we are told that over and over we never really see what it is that unites them. Given their relationship is pivotal to the story, not having that crucial information really hampers the narrative.

The rather ridiculous plot and foolishly naïve heroine made this a tough read. The writer’s carefully crafted and choreographed twists and turns were wasted on me simply because the storyline seemed so unbelievable that nothing was surprising. It fell short as a mystery as a result.

There are good points. The prose is smooth, and the pacing is excellent. Another positive is that the beginning - where Dora talks about her life as a prostitute, and the setup for the trip takes place - is intriguing.

One Last Secret is definitely a your-mileage-may-vary type of read. If you have a high tolerance for convoluted vengeance tales, you may well find yourself loving the book. If, like me, you find that type of plot rather ludicrous, you should give this a miss.

Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : C
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : January 30, 2023

Publication Date: 12/2022

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Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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