Book review: The Girl She Was by Alafair Burke

Wednesday, January 5, 2022 Permalink

Missing memories or amnesiac episodes are always good fodder for crime fiction and thrillers. Particularly when it’s indicated that one of the central characters everyone knows and loves may in fact NOT have always been quite as loveable.

It’s certainly the case in Alafair Burke’s latest book, The Girl She Was. Although it features her popular detective, Ellie Hatcher and references a pivotal point in her life, it’s not actually part of that series; rather it’s a standalone novel so perfect for both fans and newcomers.

Book review: The Girl She Was by Alafair BurkeThe Girl She Was
by Alafair Burke
Published by Faber, Faber & Faber
on 13/01/2022
Genres: Crime Fiction, Legal Procedural
ISBN: 057134559X
Pages: 293

She calls herself Hope Miller, but she has no idea who she really is.

Fourteen years ago, she was found thrown from an overturned vehicle, with no clue to her identity. Hope started a new life, but never recovered her memory.

Now she's missing. With nowhere else to turn, Hope's best friend, Lindsay Kelly, calls NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher.

In pursuit of answers, three women search for the truth beneath long-buried secrets. And when their searches converge, what they find will upend everything they've ever known.

I really liked Lindsay and would love to see her feature in a series, though – for reasons I won’t go into – I can’t imagine it happening, unless something changes significantly as I think any series featuring her would perhaps get lost in her backstory and the aftermath of what happens here.

Burke offers us two or three (or maybe four?) linked threads here. First there’s the obvious: Who is (or was) Hope? And answering that may of course answer the question as to what’s happened to her in the present.

And then there’s the discovery of a dead body and Hope’s potential involvement; the question clearly being whether she’s responsible for the death or another target of the killer?

Complicating things is that the dead man is tied to – not one but two previous crimes. And it’s one of these that brings Burke’s NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher into the mix. In the first book that series (waaay back in 2013) Ellie revisits cases involving a serial killer her cop father had investigated. We learn her father’s obsession with the case cost him his life… something Ellie has struggled to come to terms with. And now, seventeen years after the serial killer’s capture, the newly-dead man seems to have ties to one of his victims.

And…. on a completely separate note, the dead guy also has links to the murder of a prominent businessman 15 years earlier.

Which further asks the question whether there are links between the cases or are they random with the connection being the perpetrator.

So… there’s a lot happening. Too much perhaps and I would probably have (at least) ditched the Ellie Hatcher ties to the entire plot. Burke talks in an author’s note about wanting to give her closure around her father’s death but Ellie’s contribution to the case of Hope’s disappearance is limited and she felt like an afterthought on a few occasions.

Despite all of that – the plot isn’t cumbersome or difficult to follow. Lindsay (and to a lesser extent Ellie) and a local detective Carter Decker take the lead on Hope’s case, though the police have little interest until a body turns up.

The threads all come together at the end and Burke throws in multiple twists so we’re not quite sure if there’s more to come. I probably didn’t like the last one so much as it brings everything we’ve accepted into question, but I get why she did it as it’d be too tempting NOT to.

I’m a huge fan of Burke, who always offers readers strong plots and engaging characters. And as a former prosecutor and now professor of law Burke’s attention to police and legal procedural detail is always strong. It’s demonstrated here through Lindsay’s defence of her friend and through Ellie and the prickly Carter.

The Girl She Was by Alafair Burke was published in Australia by Allen & Unwin and is now available.
NB. This book will be published as Find Me in the US.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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