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by Alex Marwood
Penguin Books, July 2013
375 pages
ISBN: 0143123866

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Twenty five years ago, Bel and Jade were early adolescents when they were convicted of killing a child, Chloe. Having gone through the penal system and agreeing never to contact one another, they have built new lives with new names in a new part of the country. As improbable as it seems, their new lives collide with one another as a serial murderer targets the young, drunk women vacationing in the area near Funnland, an amusement park in a rough coastal town. One woman, who finds the first victim, now manages the cleaning staff at Funnland while the other woman is a freelance journalist covering the story. THE WICKED GIRLS is both the story of their lives colliding and the story of how Chloe died.

Marwood tells the two stories in alternating chapters, helping us understand how two eleven-year-old children could be responsible for the death of a younger child while she simultaneously helps us to see how the grown women those children have become have compensated for that early "wickedness." The book is something of a treatise on the nature and genesis of evil.

The shingle beaches, pounding waves, and wet weather combine with the sense of desperation of the town's inhabitants to provide an atmosphere as foreboding as the situation for the two women is tense. Bel and Jade, each in different ways, have become victims. The safety of their hidden lives is threatened by the circumstance of their being thrown together during this vicious time in Whitmouth, and each must call upon whatever resources are at hand to survive. As much as they need to stay apart, they also need each other. In the end, it is this connection between them that saves one and condemns the other.

Marwood's descriptions, whether of the run-down landscape, the brooding atmosphere, the panic of the women as the lifting of their covers becomes almost certain, or of their childhood homes and the circumstances they faced with Chloe, are vividly portrayed. While reading THE WICKED GIRLS, I felt always as if I were right there with them. There is a well-plotted mystery here with side-plots and red herrings (who is the serial murderer on the loose in Whitmouth?), but the book is really a character study of two girls for whom circumstances went terribly wrong, and how they strove for redemption. The book provides a lot to think about; I think it would be great fodder for a book discussion group.

Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, August 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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