Written by Alex Marwood — Some books tether you like a literary umbilical cord – let me warn you, The Wicked Girls is one of them. Sometimes, life gets in the way of book reading, but while I was doing the washing up, shopping or working, I could hear the siren’s call of this book, luring me back to its pages. That said, it won’t surprise you to hear that I demolished it in a day.
The Wicked Girls marks the debut of Alex Marwood – the pseudonym of a journalist who has plied her trade extensively across the British press. And what a debut it is! This is psychological thriller writing at its very best.
On a hot summer’s day 25 years ago, two 11-year-old girls met for the first time and planned a day of adventure, little knowing that by the end of the day they would be in police custody. The pair were later tried and convicted of the murder of a four-year-old girl. At the time, the press had a field day and the pair were demonised, and locked up in separate establishments.
Freed on licence, and with new identities and families, the women try to live normal lives out of the public glare. One of them is journalist Kirsty Lindsay, and we are introduced to her as she is called to the fictional town of Whitmouth, in Kent. It’s a small, run-down seaside community where a string of sickening attacks on women are making headlines.
One of the bodies is found in the Hall of Mirrors, an amusement from a bygone age, by Amber Gordon. She’s the head cleaner at the town’s fairground complex. When she and Kirsty meet, they realise with a jolt that they’ve met before. In fact, it’s the first time they’ve seen each other since they sat in the dock together 25 years earlier. As both women battle with the demons of the past, someone is putting the fear of god into the women of Whitmouth. Could it be creepy Martin Bagshawe, a loner who has set his sights on one of Amber’s closest friends and won’t leave her alone?
This is a book set firmly at the centre of today’s media-driven world, where public perceptions can be bent and moulded at the click of a computer mouse. Do you really know the person who lives next door? Who can you trust? And what can you believe? With little Jamie Bulger’s killers still making the headlines today, it is obviously a subject that continues to hold our interest – I don’t know how I would feel if I discovered one of them living in my street, but this book certainly made me look at life from their perspective.
The depiction of a freelance journalist stringing for the national newspapers is pinpoint accurate, and Marwood uses all her skills as a writer to create a complex, compelling and totally convincing novel. Thought-provoking, shocking and utterly engrossing, The Wicked Girls grips you like a coiled spring. I think it will be a while before this one leaves me.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars