Spoiler: This review talks about certain plot points that could be considered surprises.
I wonder how common it is to come across a book that straddles multiple genres and categories and in the process of doing so manages to produce an entertaining and generally successful story? Perhaps it happens more often than I think. The reason I muse upon these things is that this book, A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder, is such an example. While not perfect and there are things that as a reader you must accept about it, I feel that it works as an interesting and fast paced murder mystery.
A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder is a young adult (YA) tale of Pippa (Pip) Fitz-Amobi, a young woman in a small english town who, as part of a school research project, decides to investigate a five year old crime that officially was solved, but for which Pip carries doubts regarding the accepted explanation of events.
Everyone in the town knows the story. Andie Bell, a local beauty and all round angel on earth (Spoiler: she isn’t), went missing and after a few days suspicion fell on her boyfriend, Salil (Sal) Singh. Before he could be formally arrested or charged with Andie’s murder (despite no body ever being recovered), he committed suicide. The Police never investigated further believing that Sal was the guilty party and his family, devastated by the events, have lived with the consequences since then as outcasts viewed with suspicion, disgust and outright hostility. But Pip, who knew Sal and was his friend, feels that something isn’t right about it all and takes it upon herself to get to the truth. Helping her is Ravi Singh, Sal’s brother who carries the burden of those events and has a strong desire to see his brother’s name cleared, for Sal’s sake and that of their parents.
I know you must be thinking … a YA novel … are you sure? That sounds like a plot with pretty heavy content. Well it doesn’t stop there. Also included are bullying (blackmail and topless photos), kidnapping and imprisonment, teenage drug use (not just weed), date rape involving spiked drinks and an inappropriate sexual relationship between a teacher and a student as well as racism expressed both directly and indirectly. And be warned, if you are a dog lover which let’s face it most of us are, a much loved family pet is killed.
Now I will admit that when put on paper in black and white that sounds like a truly harrowing read and if this was a book aimed at the adult market it would be, but this is written as a YA book so, how can I put it, it has a filter applied so it doesn’t read as gritty as it could. Make no mistake, there are certain moments that made for disturbing reading. The description of Andie’s death is stomach churning, the revelations surrounding Sal’s last moments were heartbreaking, especially knowing that he was pilloried by the local community afterwards and the cruel and vicious way one female character was used and abused. I actually found myself wondering if these subjects and themes deserved a place in a more realistic and hard hitting examination of teenage life. I mean, just one of those events could be the basis for a whole novel without a doubt. But with seemingly lightening speed we moved from one revelation to another.
And with having so much packed into the plot, there are some things of interest that are brushed over. Case in point – a character is revealed to have murdered Sal. This character is the father of Pip’s best friend of many years, Cara. This turn of events should have had a monumental effect on her life, including her relationship with Pip, who was responsible for outing him and his crime. Yet the aftermath and fallout is barely mentioned. I wanted to see more of that but the book was coming to a close and that was sacrificed. Obviously the author had decided on what book she wanted to write and that guided the treatment of characters and events which included how deep into emotional and actual consequences she went.
There are some things that you raise your eyebrow at but just have to accept as a consequence of the YA treatment. What do I mean? Pip spies on and tails a drug dealer to his house and pretty much forces her way in to question him about what he knows of the crime. Remember that she is only a teenager and still at school. It’s probably ok to say that this is quite far fetched but as a reader you just need to take it in your stride.
This is not a criticism as such. It’s just a heads up that if you are looking for that gritty realistic style then you won’t find it here. That has the effect of making this quite an easy read despite all the themes touched upon. I got through it in just several days despite being of a reasonable length. My interest was maintained throughout and I will admit to reading past my normal lights out time because I needed to know what happened. I also liked the format which had standard chapters in the third person perspective being interspersed with Pip’s project production logs, which were presented in the first person as well as interview transcripts which were a combination of both. It added an extra layer of interest and challenge which I appreciated.
Some of the other things I liked were the mix of ethnicities we saw in the town. Pip’s stepfather is Nigerian (she and her mother are white and her younger brother is of mixed race) and the Singh’s are of Indian ethnicity. That is much more representative of the Britain of today and just made a nice change from an all white cast of characters. There was also queer repreantation as well in the form of Cara, Pip’s best friend. So the author made a real attempt to be inclusive which was great to see.
I also liked the character of Pip and her subtle friendship (that morphed into more) with Ravi. They were both smart and sassy but not in any annoying way. Their gentle teasing of one another was fun and sweet at the same time. They worked well as a pair and I really enjoyed their moments together. And the fact that no eyebrow was raised concerning a relationship of the romantic kind between them was very refreshing.
All in all I will say that I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to most, although possibly not to readers at the younger end of the YA scale due to the themes involved. It’s interesting, fast moving and worth a read and I liked it enough to want to read the sequel.
Rating: 3 Stars
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)