Thursday, May 22, 2014
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
The action of The Wicked Girls starts in the seaside town of Whitmouth where Amber Gordon works as the supervisor of the third shift cleaning crew at Funnland, a beachfront amusement park. Amber is trying to be the kind of supportive supervisor people like, helping them out when she can and turning a blind eye to their minor infractions. Her life is pretty no frills, but her luck; finding a home with a good boyfriend, her two sweet dogs, and steady work; never ceases to surprise her. That is, until the night when she reports to her normal cleaning duties at Innfinityland, the hall of mirrors, and discovers the body of a strangled young girl in its passages. All the sudden, her criminal past, carefully buried and obscured by a new name and a quiet life, comes perilously close to the surface.
As the killings continue, and the Seaside Strangler begins to make a name for himself, the press descends upon the lower-end holiday town. With it comes Kirsty Lindsay, mother of two, hack journalist, and the incognito other half of a "criminal" duo. Kirsty and Amber were never meant to see each other again, but the coincidence of the Whitmouth crimes drags them into each other's orbit for the first time since the fateful day when their childhoods came to an abrupt end. As the saga of the Seaside Strangler continues, the back story of the "Wicked Girls" also slowly unspools.
I actually quite enjoyed The Wicked Girls, but it wasn't quite what I was expecting. For starters, it was set on the English seaside, which for some reason, despite having read the spoilery jacket copy and whatever the publicist sent me when pitching the book to me for review, I failed to realize. As for me, the British slang and atmosphere set this book a little apart for me and made me like it more. Second, I was expecting more of a nailbiter when it came to identifying the Seaside Strangler. However, for anybody who has ever caught an episode of a show like Criminal Minds in their lives, spotting the Strangler was no difficult task, and I think I'd managed it before the book was half over. Rather than giving a lot of attention to the immediate crimes at hand, the book uses them to embrace its more literary side and delve into the psyches of the now adult perpetrators of a childhood crime.
As a character study, The Wicked Girls soars. It asks difficult questions about what constitutes a murder, whether a killer can ever outrun the effects of their crime, and how well another person and their motives can ever truly be known. More suspenseful than the Strangler mystery by far is the collection of flashbacks that recalls the details of the first and last day the Wicked Girls spent together and the crime, if you can call it that, that derails their futures. Marwood does a stellar job with her two main characters. They are are never quite positioned as wholly loveable women, but Marwood easily draws your sympathy toward them as she lays out the paths that each took to live a good life in the wake of crime and punishment, whether it was by being a devoted wife and mother or by always offering a helping hand to a friend or a co-worker in need. When it becomes clear that what's past is never truly past, Marwood evokes a sad situation and asks her readers to consider what really makes a person wicked and whether someone with blood on their hands can ever find redemption.
(Review copy received from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.)