It’s 1995 in Grace, Alabama and Summer Ryan has already disappeared by the time this book opens but we’re in her head at various times as the months before her disappearance take shape.
And we’re left to wonder if Summer’s joined the ranks of the Briar Girls… five seemingly good church-going girls from Briar county who’ve disappeared; or if this is something completely different.
All The Wicked Girls
by Chris Whitaker
Published by Bonnier Zaffre
on August 24th 2017
Source: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Psychological Thriller, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781785761522, 9781785763793
Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she's a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama - especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine.
Then Summer goes missing. Grace is already simmering, and with this new tragedy the police have their hands full keeping the peace. Only Raine throws herself into the search, supported by a most unlikely ally.
But perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye . . .
There’s a strong sense of place in this novel… of small town Alabama which is something Whitaker delivers through the characters’ dialogue; the idiosyncrasies of its residents; the (ahem) interesting religious communities and dodgy preachers; and the sparse terrain, including the Red river and places called Hell’s Gate and similar. And then there’s the menacing storm cloud hovering above the community of Grace.
The prose in this novel flow effortlessly and I often stopped to pause and ponder well-written sentences and eloquent phrasing. A lot of these are offered up through Summer’s voice: her thoughts and conversations, as well as her observations.
I fall in and out of myself. Who I think I am ain’t aways who I am. I can go for weeks where I slip from one person into another. It’s like gettin’ lost in the woods. I’ll pass by somethin’ I know maybe three or four times, but it don’t lead me out, it don’t show me the way. p 92
She’s incredibly likeable and amazingly insightful and astute for her age and life experience.
The devil is a concept, a theory that binds wrists and bows heads. I reckon I have too many thoughts, which is worse than having too few. p 289
Although Summer narrates from the first person point of view, we’re also privy to unfolding events via her twin Raine, schoolboy and wanna-be cop Noah and the local police chief, all of whom have their fair share of flaws and regrets.
We meet A LOT of characters in this book and I was – at times – confused and unsure if I needed to retain information about someone mentioned or introduced. It was okay once I remembered who was who, but for a while it was a little overwhelming.
I really enjoyed this beautifully voiced novel though found the ending somewhat confusing and perhaps a tad anticlimactic. In fact, I kept having to look back over pages to see if I’d missed anything and look closely at the wording to see who knew what and who was saying what.
It could have, and should have, been poignant and heartbreaking (cos it was and was beautifully written and voiced), but the flow was a little interrupted for me, as I flicked through pages to get some clarity around what was happening.
And I’m not sure justice was served. Really. I mean… the obsessive part of me can’t rationally decide if ‘everyone who mattered’ worked out what happened in the end and who was to blame for what. And why. Karma may have played a part or two, but if you’re like me and like to see things neatly wrapped up then you may be disappointed.
As an aside, I wasn’t sure if Whitaker was meant for the cloud (literally) hanging over the Grace community to be an obvious metaphor for evil; or for its shadows to add to the dark and menacing atmosphere; or if it was just meant to be a cloud – but the storm at the end and lightning strikes and stuff felt a little over-the-top. Although I suspect it would translate brilliantly onto the big or little screen.
However… I did enjoy most of the book until the very end (lowering it slightly from an exceptional 4.5 to a very good 4 star rating) and was very impressed by Whitaker’s writing and Summer as a character in particular.
I note this is Whitaker’s second book and (despite my little whinge about the ending), his first looks interesting so I’ll try to mentally make a note to read it at some point.
All the Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is available in Australia from 27 September 2017.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.