The Horror Honeys: Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

Hardcover Honey's Book of the Week!

The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood

Hey, did you see Heavenly Creatures, the fact-based Peter Jackson-directed movie about two 15-year-old girls who kill one of their moms?  Did you love it like I did, drag a few others to see it again, and feel a residual fondness for both Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey because of it, all these years later. Did you read up on the actual case afterwards?  Were you shocked when it turned out that Anne Perry, author of several highly successful mystery novels, was in fact one of the girls in question, and had changed her name after serving her juvenile sentence?

If the answers to any of these questions is “yes”, then you are likely to enjoy this week's Hardcover Honey read, the engrossing Alex Marwood novel The Wicked Girls.  Opening in 1986, the story introduces us to wrong-side-of-the-tracks pre-teen Jade Walker and her new friend, the from-such-a-good-family Anabel Oldacre, who are being separately held and questioned in reference to the death of a young girl who had been in their care one recent summer day.  We don't learn much right off the bat, and in fact, are quickly jumped ahead to 2011, where we meet responsible and dedicated cleaning supervisor Amber Gordon, who works in a seaside town at Funnland, the horribly named amusement park, with all the attendant accessories, like cotton candy, bumper cars, and a mirror maze, which Amber cleans herself, as none of her staff perform this difficult task to her satisfaction.

Amber has a small group of loyal night-shift employees who she also counts as friends, and she shares a small but tidy house with her partner of seven years, Vic, an implausibly handsome and standoffish carnie who flirts with the young girls in his ride line, but always (well, usually) comes home to Amber. As we meet Amber, she is setting off to clean the mirror maze.  Unfortunately for Amber, the maze holds a new surprise that evening, in the form of a dead teenage girl, who has been strangled.  Amber is upset, as anybody stumbling across a body would be, but her anxiety seems to stem mostly from of the idea of talking to the media, or having her picture in the paper.  It seems as though our diligent Amber may have some secrets she'd prefer not to share.  Not to mention, the MO fits two other girls who were killed the previous season, and it's starting to look like the tacky coastal town of Whitmouth may have a serial killer on its hands.

Intertwined in our 2011 story, every few chapters, we dip back into the hot and sunny day in 1986 where Jade and Bel meet, and start to learn how their story will eventually wind up with them both in prison for the murder of a younger girl who was in their care.

Author Alex Marwood
Back in 2011, as a group of journalists descend on Whitmouth to write their sensational stories on what they dub the “Seaside Strangler," we meet scrappy newspaper stringer Kristy Lindsay, who has two kids, an out-of-work husband and secrets of her own to guard.  Kristy interviews a few locals, including the ultra-creepy Martin Bagshawe, a beige stalker-y type who fancies himself of great importance, and is determined to teach Kristy a lesson when he finds her dismissive of him.

How Kristy and Amber are connected to our notorious child-killers Jade and Bel is fairly easy to guess, but Marwood is still able to surprise us.

When Kristy and Amber cross paths, old secrets are unearthed and new ones are formed.  As they struggle to reconcile the girls they used to be with the women they've become, Kristy and Amber find that not everybody in their lives is who they appear to be.  Even their own personas may not hold up to much scrutiny with a killer on the loose.   As they grapple with the identity of the Seaside Strangler and their own complicated pasts, the book builds to an exciting crescendo, while simultaneously dealing with some big picture stuff, like how our childhood choices resonate through our adulthoods, how class defines us, and whether someone can, truly, be born evil.

Hardcover Honey Rating: Four out of five crumpets for this carefully crafted tale