By Alex Marwood
Out of the mystery writers’ bullpen with her debut Wicked Girls Alex Marwood won the Edgar. And what an accomplished first go at the psychological thriller it is. Her follow up novels, The Killer Next Door and The Darkest Secret, show her quite adept plumbing the darker regions of the human psyche for material that not only provides exciting reading but which also demonstrates there’s usually more behind a trashy headline than first glance reveals. Which certainly is the case with stringer Kirsty and amusement park cleaning crew chief Amber, two women once girls named Jade and Bel.
A serial killer appears to be operating in the rundown resort town of Whitmouth and for the most part the bodies of the young female victims seem to be showing up at Funnland, the name a bit of a wicked swipe at irony.
When the Funnland lights go off and the gates close, Amber Gordon’s crew of cleaners work their way through the park disposing of the detritus of the fun seekers. She’s something of a horsey woman plagued by a large, distinctive mole on her face (that proves revealing later in the story). However, her standoffishness is her most prominent feature. All this makes one wonder how she has managed to snag and live with Vic Cantrell all these years. Handsome and muscled, he’s a man all the women desire, workers and visitors alike. Like many things that dazzle, though, things lurk in the machinery of his personality that are best described as dark. And these revolve around his relationship with Amber.
A London newspaper dispatches Kirsty Lindsay to Whitmouth, where she joins up with a gaggle of other reporters to cover the serial murders. Kirsty finds herself under a good deal of pressure at home, as her husband Jim has been out of gainful employment for some time, leaving her and her precarious stringer job as the sole means of support for him and their two children. As if that isn’t burden enough, in Whitmouth she sees Amber and realizes she knows her. The two share a notorious past; in fact both as children were convicted of killing four-year-old Chloe (a storyline fleshed out in flashbacks). They have served their time but must remain separated from each other for life. Under the circumstances, that becomes more and more difficult and finally impossible.
Tossed into the mix is Martin, a real psychological mess, a true paranoid narcissist with a severe persecution complex. In other words, the world is out to get him, and in return he comes unhinged with the idea he can do whatever he pleases to the world. He plays a pivotal role in nearly ruining the lives of both Kirsty and Amber.
Marwood addresses many issues in this thriller, among them the question of forgiveness, especially of children who commit crimes, the morality of harsh justice, and shielding a murderer, even if the deed is done in self-defense and the shielding preserves a greater good. w/c