Written by Marnie Riches — Georgina (George) McKenzie is a Cambridge University student on exchange in the lurid city of Amsterdam. When a bomb goes off outside the university where she is studying politics, no-one seems able to explain why it was targeted. George can’t help herself but get involved and pulls along her reluctant friend Ad. After she writes a blog post about the bomb the officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Paul van den Bergen, enlists George in his investigative efforts. Very soon they realise that a person was part of the bomb. In a large box with the device was one of George’s classmates. Then another bomb goes off with a second of George’s class killed. Why are they being blown up, and by whom?
In South London, Ella Williams-May is a girl in trouble. She and her mother are being targeted by a local gang, led by Danny. When Ella is caught stealing handbags to make ends meet she’s forced to become an informant by the police. Ella inveigles her way into Danny’s gang, leading a dangerous double life.
As George, Ad and van den Bergen race against time to find the bomber they discover that George herself may be the target. Can van den Bergen save her?
This is a smart debut crime novel from Marnie Riches. It switches between gaudy Amsterdam, narrated by a suitably coarse George, and down at heel South London, in two seemingly unconnected story lines. The jump between the two is jarring at first. There’s no clear signposting when you step from one strand into the other. However, the plot is pacy and compelling enough to maintain the interest and when the link is finally made, it’s well worth it.
There are several major strengths in this novel. First and foremost is the sense of place. The majority of the plot occurs in Amsterdam, with a smattering of Cambridge gentility, some events in Germany along with a parallel plot in gritty south east London. The Dutch location comes through the strongest and suits George’s voice (another major plus) very well. It is clear Riches knows her stuff when it comes to Amsterdam, in fact she studied modern and medieval Dutch. George’s neighbours are prostitutes, everyone smokes drugs and when the story opens she’s been sleeping around. It seems she fits in well. But there’s a lot more to George than first meets the eye. She’s dogged and determined, happy to be involved in a brutal and dangerous case.
There are a lot of characters in The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die, from sleazy university lecturer Vin Fennemans, who manipulates and assaults his students and has an intense dislike of George, to each of the victims who we meet before their grisly ends. The author doesn’t hold back at all in her narrative. The descriptions as the killer goes to work are up close and personal. The pace is high and maintained throughout, if anything increasing as the conclusion is reached and the perpetrator is revealed in a very satisfying and intelligent conclusion. There are two further installments to follow. The next will be The Girl Who Broke the Rules, due to be published in August.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars