Not only has Alice Clark-Platts authored police procedurals, but in her former day job she was a human rights lawyer who worked at the UN International Crime Tribunal.
I only discovered that fact after reading this book though I can better understand the reflection in this book on the concept of retribution as well as some debate over punishment fitting the crime – and if it’s even possible.
The Flower Girls
by Alice Clark-Platts
Published by Raven Books
Source: Bloomsbury ANZ
Genres: Psychological Thriller
ISBN: 1526602164, 9781526602169
It's been nineteen years since ten-year-old Laurel was given a life sentence and six-year-old Rosie was given a new identity.
The sisters were the very picture of innocence: two little girls who loved to listen to their mother's bedtime stories and play make-believe in the garden. But then an act of unparalleled horror tears their family apart, leaving Laurel behind bars and Rosie moved to a different part of the country.
Neither sister has laid eyes on the other since then, during which time their lives have followed very different paths. But now – with Laurel coming up for parole – they look set to be reunited in court, and the world will be watching…
The book opens with the sisters meeting 2yr old Kirstie Swann before leaping quite suddenly to another missing child.
In the present, Georgie Greenstreet disappears from the hotel where Hazel (ie. Rosie, celebrating her 25th birthday) is staying with her partner and his teenage daughter. Her new identity is made obvious to we readers from the start and she becomes paranoid immediately… knowing what people will think if they find out who she is.
She’s managed to keep her identity secret since leaving Yorkshire with her parents when Laurel went to prison 18yrs earlier. Other than her parents, only her fiancee knows that she is one of the infamous ‘Flower Girls’.
Clark-Platts takes us back to the murder of Kirstie (in 1997) intermittently, slowly offering more detail – though not all. Most of the gory details come from people in the present rather than us being completely privy to the events almost twenty years earlier.
In the present day a dogged detective constable, Lorna Hillier suspects Hazel from their first meeting, realising she’s got something to hide. But she’s not the only suspect in the disappearance of 5yr old Georgie. And Hazel has an alibi as she was with her partner / fiancee, Jonny.
Hazel’s unveiling is bad enough but it’s timed with her sister’s third attempt at parole. Laurel’s original sentence kept her incarcerated for eight years – until she turned 18 – but she’s been consistently turned down for parole ever since.
Crucial to keeping her in jail has been Joanna Denton, the aunt of Kirstie. She gave up her desired law career to fight for victims and has been resolute in her obsession to keep Laurel imprisoned for the rest of her life. She’s a regular on public forums – arguing even those who murder as children (as in Laurel’s case) should be eligible for life imprisonment despite their age. If there’s intent, she believes, their punishment should be no different to those over 18yrs of age.
But finally it seems that Laurel’s attorney – her uncle who’s the only visitor she’s had for years and member of her family to keep in touch – may succeed in getting her parole.
These two events could have happened in isolation if it wasn’t for an ambitious historical fiction author. Max is struggling with his latest book and staying at the same hotel as Hazel when Georgie disappears. He realises he has the perfect opportunity to gain her trust and leverage a book deal by learning the truth behind the death of Kristie almost two decades earlier.
Max engineers a reunion between the sisters, hoping it will provoke dormant memories in Hazel and provide excellent fodder for his book. But things don’t go to plan.
And in the background the likeable DC Hillier is still beavering away, trying to understand what happened to Georgie and exactly who was involved.
It has to be said this book was far twistier than I expected. I has suspicions about someone’s motives at one point but then it didn’t seem feasible. But Clark-Platts manoeuvres her characters, revealing past actions and events in ways that are quite shocking.
Some of the transitions – between then and now – felt a little clunky at times, though it was pretty easy to work out which timeline we were in.
Clark-Platts has added some complexity via the debate about Laurel’s release, about crime and punishment in addition to discussion around evil being born or made. Seemingly here – of course – we’re talking about children, so was Laurel inherently bad?
And although I didn’t particularly ‘like’ Joanna, I could certainly relate to her character as she’s confronted by the anger she’s held onto for so many years. She’s pushed her life aside while fighting for justice for Kirstie but she wonders now if that ‘drive’ has been an excuse rather than a reason.
So this is an enjoyable read, although I must confess the end was almost a bit too twisty, and on writing I had to re-read and re-consider exactly what happened. Who did what. When. And how.
(And I’m not entirely sure I got it right!)
The Flower Girls by Alice Clark-Platts was published in Australia by Bloomsbury and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.