Monday, December 9, 2013

The Wicked Girls

I read The Wicked Girls during my blogging hiatus but I still wanted to write a review and let you guys in on the fun by sharing my insights on this gripping page-turner with a memorable twist ending. The Wicked Girls is the debut novel by Alex Marwood, which is actually the pseudonym of a British journalist who has worked extensively across the UK press. The novel is a mystery thriller set in a seaside resort town where a number of gruesome murders of young female tourists have taken place, and the story juxtapositions the mystery surrounding the current murders with the story behind the shared troubled past of the two female protagonists.

The novel’s prologue starts in 1986 when two 11 year old girls, Jade Walker and Annabel Oldacre, both from completely different paths in life (one from a troubled and poor family, the other the daughter of a prominent businessman) meet for the first time only to have their lives forever changed when by the end of that fateful day the two are charged with the murder of a local four year old girl.

Twenty-five years have passed since that terrible day. Having suffered significantly diverging fates post-trial, Jade and Bel “to all intents and purposes, ceased to exist when they vanished into the system,” and are now known to their family and friends as Kirsty Lindsay, a journalist and married mother of two, and Amber Gordon, a single carnival cleaner, respectively. The fates conspire yet again to bring these two women together when Kirsty is sent to cover the latest murder to take place in Whitmouth, and Amber has the terrible misfortune of being the one to find the body in the mirror maze of her amusement park.

When these two virtual strangers whose past is forever linked meet again, Amber is the first struck with recognition and “she feels her heart, thump-thump-thump, feels the strength leave her limbs, sees darkness creep in around the edge of her vision. This can’t be happening. It can’t.” As reality then hits Kirsty, she calls out "Bel", which only serves to jolt Amber like a cattle prod, “No!” she shouts, “I don’t know that name. That’s not my name. Just – shut up. Shut up! You know we’re not meant to see each other. You know! Are you mad? Go away!” Sadly, this freak meeting is only the start of a new nightmare faced by Kirsty and Amber, as they’ve each walked into the sick web of a deranged psychopath that threatens to uncover their dearly guarded secret and in turn destroy the new life they each hold dear.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It was a smart, perfectly paced and compelling thriller. The novel alternates between past and present, and through flashbacks interspersed between chapters we get a detailed narrative on the timeline and actual events of the momentous day that changed the course of Kirsty/Jade and Amber/Bel’s lives. As we delve into the present lives of these two women, Marwood does a great job in making them human, vulnerable and ultimately likable and sympathetic characters. As for the truth of the past, it is not until near the end of the book that the reader can fully grasp the extent of the tragedy which transpired as a result of two children’s poor decisions and how they haunt them still as adults.

For my taste, the present day mystery in the novel was actually its weakest point, since I think most readers will either outright solve or at least have an inkling as to the suspect's identity relatively early in the story, but the narrative set 25 years earlier more than makes up for what that’s lacking. Jade and Bel’s story offers an insightful statement on the deplorable consequences of a rush to judgment, how the media colors and skews society’s perceptions, and how the quality of juvenile detention centers can make or break the young lives that walk through their halls.

As I mentioned at the onset of this review, the book does have a twist ending, which in hindsight shouldn’t have been unexpected. While I understand the author’s purpose in using the twist, I don’t necessarily like it, though I will admit it does add a bittersweet poignancy to the novel which it might not have had otherwise. The Wicked Girls is a captivating and at times unsettling read which you won’t want to put down once you start.