It’s 1986 when eleven-year-olds Jade and Bel meet in the village store. Their paths weren’t likely to have crossed before because Jade is one of the notorious Walkers – a family from the far side of the tracks – and Bel lives in a fancy house with servants. This fateful meeting is to change the course of the girls’ lives forever because by the end of it another little girl will be dead and Jade and Bel will be arrested for the murder.
This isn’t the only thing happening in Alex Marwood’s novel The Wicked Girls, though.
There’s Amber, head cleaner of Funnland, a boardwalk amusement park in the seaside town of Whitmouth (I imagined Blackpool only smaller and seedier). She lives with Vic, a handsome but slightly passive-aggressive carny. Amber lives a quiet, tidy life. She takes pleasure in overseeing her crew of cleaners and helping them when she can. When Amber discovers a dead girl in the park’s hall of mirrors, her life becomes significantly more complicated.
Then there’s Kirsty , a freelance journalist married to Jim, an out of work IT guy, and mother to a couple children. When the body is found at Funnland, Kirsty finds herself on assignment and inevitably comes face-to-face with Amber, the last person she’d ever expected to see again.
The reason: after their release from prison, Jade and Bel were given new identities and cautioned about ever making contact with each other again. Not that the girls were likely to meet; they barely knew each other to begin with.
Marwood balances the story of Jade and Bel, unspooling the narrative of what happened that long ago day with the present day Amber and Kirsty, two women who have made a desperate attempt to reinvent their lives.
As if that weren’t enough, let’s not forget Martin, creepy Whitmouth resident. He’s been rebuffed by Jackie, one of the Funnland cleaners. He’s clearly deranged and
the rage of rejection crawls beneath his skin; invisible, unscratchable. All she needs to do is text him back. He doesn’t want to go out, but if she refuses to respond he’s going to have to. As his mother was always assuring him, persistence is the most important quality in life. And he knows he is the most persistent of all.
The seemingly disparate threads of Marwood’s novel do come together, but whether you find the ending satisfying or not will depend on how you like your mysteries. There were a few super tense moments in The Wicked Girls, but there were also moments I found really slow going – not superfluous exactly. I guess I just like a little more ass-kicking and a little less naval-gazing in my thrillers. That said, the characters were definitely nuanced and sympathetic and the writing was good, but over-all I would have to say The Wicked Girls is more slow burn than page-turner. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.