Originally from Southern California, Joe Hong is currently a PhD student in Comparative Literature at Rutgers University. While he has a passion for all literary form, Joe has recently been inspired by the novels and short stories written by contemporary American writers, which has led him to pursue writing this column for Dappered. His other pastimes include watch collecting and craft whiskies.
Possibly my greatest pet peeve is spoilers. And because it goes back and forth between past and present, this novel is definitely tough to review without spoilers. The Wicked Girls begins with a present-day narrative revolving around the murders of young women in a small resort town called Whitmouth. One of Whitmouth’s main tourist attractions is an amusement park where one of the novel’s main characters, Amber Gordon, works as lower-level management. As a result of the serial murders, the novel’s second protagonist Kirsty Lindsay, a journalist, visits the town to investigate the disturbing events.
Here, the chapters of this present-day story begins to be punctuated by short chapters that retell Amber and Kirsty’s dark past, as it becomes entangled in the Whitmouth killings. The Wicked Girls thus begins to explore these two characters’ childhoods. Through her masterful juggling of these two timelines, the author Alex Marwood demonstrates that she has writing suspense down to a science, and I mean that as flattery. The pacing with which she reveals the histories of her characters is elegant and clever. But as a finalist for the 2013 International Thriller Writer Award, it’s hardly surprising that Marwood finds herself so much at home within this genre.
While the storytelling is refined, I found this novel’s most important quality to be its representation of the journalist. For Marwood, journalistic writing seems to be a troubling endeavor. In the world of The Wicked Girls, reporting the news is embedded in delicate and complex personal histories. Given her professional experience in the field, I found Marwood’s portrayal of the journalist to be brutally honest. As the events in Ferguson and Iraq were escalating while I was reading The Wicked Girls, the figure of the journalist in this novel gave me a fruitful way for understanding how we spread and consume information.
Although I recommend this novel without reservation, reading it is definitely an unsettling experience. While the story’s twists induce quite the adrenaline rush, Marwood’s prose forces you to dive into the repulsive grittiness that is Whitmouth. Overall, it’s a consistently balanced read: The Wicked Girls provides uncut suspense with a haunting, contemplative edge.