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I don't spend as much time reading as I should, partly because most of the time I spend reading is spent reading reviews on dooyoo and Ciao! Partly because I no longer have a commute to work which is where most of my reading in the recent years has been done. The third reason isn't such a good one really - I've actually found since I got my kindle that I don't enjoy reading as much on it as I do with a good old paperback (although it is a bit easier in bed than a paperback) - my problem is that I find it really hard to follow stories (especially ones with lots of characters) and often have to go back to old pages to reread bits, and it's very difficult to do that on a kindle since I don't know while reading the book which bits I'm going to need to go back to.
Therefore it seems these days that unless I get absorbed in a really good book then I don't tend to bother much with reading.
"The Wicked Girls" has at least temporarily changed this as I read it over the course of two very busy days (I would happily have read it in one sitting if I'd had the time). I was recommended it by a good friend a while back, and it had been sitting on my Amazon wishlist as I hoped for the price to drop (eventually it dropped by 32p). When I finally bought it, I couldn't wait to get stuck in as I have generally been very pleased with my friend's recommendations!
The author Alex Marwood (pseudonym) is a journalist, and this is her debut novel. I was actually a bit upset on discovering this as after reading this wanted to get stuck into some more books by the same author. Unfortunately though I'll have to wait until her new novel comes out in December.
The front cover is simple and dark, with a small picture of three children under a tree (which isn't actually great as one of them should be a lot smaller), with text saying "One summer morning, three little girls meet for the first time. By the end of the day, two will be charged with murder". The title "The Wicked Girls" written in a large font, which is the focus of the cover, and there is also a quote from Val McDermid (not an author I've ever really got into).
The book is 384 pages (I've looked on Amazon for this, since I have the kindle version) split into 46 chapters and is published by Sphere (first published in June 2012).
Back in 1986 two socially very different 12-year old girls (Jade and Bel) met each other for the first time and murdered a 4 year old child. I needn't say more surrounding what happens as that would spoil the book. Throughout the book we come back to this dreadful day and build up a picture of what led to the horrific death which perhaps isn't initially what we might think. Obviously there are parallels with the Jamie Bulger murder - there is mention of his killers throughout the story, along with Mary Bell, which I felt made the story feel more real.
In the present day Amber Gordon is a cleaning supervisor at Funnland (a funfair) in the fictional seaside town of Whitmouth in Kent. She's worked hard to get where she is, but it's a constant struggle and life is not rosy by any means, but she's doing ok.
Kirsty Lindsay is a freelance journalist, married with children, and on the surface it seems like she's living the high life.
In the seaside town there is a murderer on the loose (targeting young women), and this leads to a meeting between the two women - two women who due to their crime are not legally allowed to ever see each other again. Both women have dealt with what happened in the past in their own different ways, but for both women with their new identities, it would cause devastation if it got out in the public (and in their private lives) who they really were.
There's also a subplot of a creepy stalker called Martin Bagshawe which all ties in well with the main story and adds to the suspense of the novel.
For me one of the best things about the book was that there weren't that many key characters which made it easy for me to keep track of who was who. For the cynical it does also mean that guessing 'who dunnit' isn't actually that difficult if you're that way inclined (although there are a few twists). Personally I don't tend to predict what is going to happen in a book (or films - it used to drive me MAD when my ex used to predict the outcome of a film within the first 5 minutes and usually be correct), I like to just wait and see what happens.
The main characters mostly have likeable and dislikable aspects to their personalities (well, aside from Martin, the creepy stereotypical anorak wearing stalker!) and they are developed so well that it is easy to empathise. Kirsty's character is particularly interesting, and knowing now that the author is a journalist, it is clear that she has used the character to share her expertise on journalism and the British press.
The book is focussed on an emotive subject, one which is likely to make you think, and stay with you long after reading whatever your personal views on the issues involved are. It highlights how things are not always as they seem, and it particularly made me think about the role the media plays in reporting crime, and how we can never really know what has happened unless we have heard what the people involved actually have to say about it.
It also made me think about the implications of changing identities, something I'd not thought too much about before. Unfortunately though, thought-provoking as the book is, I think the sort of people (namely the vigilante mobs) who really need to read books like these probably don't read books.
I am really pleased to have read "The Wicked Girls", firstly because it's a fantastic and well-written book (although pretty hard hitting and unpleasant at times), but secondly since it seems to have got me back into reading again. Since finishing it I have read 2 more books over the course of the week which is something I haven't done in a long time!
I paid £3.67 for the Kindle version. A new paperback can be bought for £3.84 on Amazon, or a used copy for the standard 1p plus £2.80 postage!
I would urge people to read this, particularly people who enjoy books by Minette Walters (one of my favourite authors). Reading this made me experience so many different (but mostly negative)emotions - shock, fear, anger, horror, sadness (a few tears were shed towards the end), but mostly sheer frustration at the media and at society in general.
5 out of 5 stars from me.