Published first in the UK (last year) and in the United States this summer, I got an advanced copy of the US edition Wicked Girls from the Early Word program. This is not a book I would have normally picked up, but I could not put it down. Perhaps I like mysteries/thrillers more than I thought I did or perhaps this book is just THAT GOOD.
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood. 378 pages. UK version published by Sphere in 2012, US version published July 30, 2013 by Penguin.
Bottom Line: Recommended for most all public libraries. Great summer read. Would appeal either to mystery fans of sociological issues fans (ie Jodi Piccoult).
Two 11 year-old girls suffering from different and very similar lives of neglect meet for one summer day. At the end of that day, they are murderers. Their subsequent prosecution, imprisonment, and release under a protection program that changes their identities all come to a head 25 years later. Kristy is a journalist covering a serial killer and Amber is a cleaning supervisor who has found one of the victims. Switching between the current series of murders and their fears for the lives they've established should their secret be revealed.
When a child commits a terrible crime, there is a lot of speculation in the media on why (bad parenting, violent video games, natural sociopath, pick your disorder du jour). This book can not and does not try to give an overarching reason. Instead it tells a very plausible story of two girls, one awful day, and the adults they become.
At no point is this an apologetic tale, the horror of what happened and the culpability of all involved is never sugarcoated. However for those of you like your thriller with a healthy dose of psychological introspection, Marwood has written a fantastic tale for you.
Setting: an economically depressed, working class town on a cold rainy coast in Britain. It is perfectly described. Have you read The Working Poor or Nickel and Dimed? What I love here, beyond the obvious thriller/mystery, was the contrasts of the recession on Kristy (solidly middle class but struggling with her husband out of work) and Amber and her working class/minimum wage colleagues. Fantastically done, insightful societal portraits. Ultimately, that is why this appeals so much more to me than your average mystery. The vivid characters, detailed setting, and multifaceted look at a society's larger issues are incredibly compelling. More than the mystery, that keeps the reader turning the pages and thinking about it long after you have finished reading.
Oh yeah and the mystery is good and fast paced. You will want to know what precisely happened on the day when they were children and who is killing people now. I had called out the red herring and the real murderer pretty early though. But it wasn't enough to stop me from reading the rest of this book as it usually does with mysteries. Seeing how Marwood would get us to the end kept me reading. Overall this is just a fantastic book.