“What do you do when the things that are supposed to protect you, fail you like that”
A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder seemed to explode over my social media last year – and it warranted the press and publicity once I got round to reading it. Pip Fitz-Amobi’s investigation into Andie Bell’s disappearance and Sal Singh’s death was both a gripping thriller and startlingly dark for a YA novel. And I have a weakness for stories set in an apparently benign genteel village, Little Kilton, which seethes with a darkness just beneath the surface.
This novel is an incredibly direct sequel and one of the key clues actually occurs in the previous book – a detail that I congratulated myself on having retained as a niggling unexplained edge. Andie and Sal are almost as present here as in the first book and we pick up events as their lives are celebrated in a memorial and Ravi attends Max Hastings’ trial from the first novel. There are enough explanations given that you could enjoy this book without having read the first, but I wouldn’t advise it!
The key plot here is triggered when Connor, Pip’s friend from the first book, knocks on Pip’s door to declare that his brother has gone missing and the police are not investigating. As a twenty four year old who had only been missing a few hours – one with a history of absenting himself and no underlying vulnerabilities – they wouldn’t. Reluctantly, Pip is drawn into the disappearance and starts to investigate.
The novel rattles along at a good pace, despite what felt like a little repetitiousness. Jackson plays around with her mulitmedia style again and alongside the third person narrative we get interviews with witnesses, episodes from Pip’s podcast, case notes and images and floorplans. So often the same information is conveyed two or three times. But that did not detract from the speed with which it moves on. Jamie’s timeline is uncovered moment by moment from his last sighting at the memorial to a calamity party to the streets of Little Kilton… And Jackson keeps us very embedded in that village: it started to feel a little claustrophobic.
I did like the increased focus on Pip’s friends in this novel: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder seemed to focus very much on Pip and Ravi, so with the exception of Cara, Pip’s other friends seemed to fade into background noise a little. Here they come to the fore, because the stakes are that much higher and more pressured: Jamie is not a cold case where the victims are already dead, he is not a name from the newspapers five years ago. Jamie is a friend’s brother, part of Pip’s emotional landscape, and his life could be at stake, taking us perhaps from detective to thriller territory.
And this means that the morals and ethics of what Pip is doing are more intense. Her caveats and warnings to Joanna, Jamie and Connor’s mum, about the exposure and the violation that her investigation might cause are very potent: what twenty-four year old wants their social media accounts and messages and their Tinder profiles exposed to their parents or to the world?
It might lead us to potentially unsavoury things about Jamie, things that might be embarrassing or harmful, for you and him. Secrets he might have kept from you and wouldn’t want exposed…. you have to accept that your private lives will be laid bare. Nothing will be off-the-record, and that can be hard to deal with.’
And the characterisation of Pip was great too: Jackson took her into a rather dark place, and hearing rumours of at least another couple of books to come, I am concerned about where she will end up. Even at the start of the investigation she felt like she was on rocky ground – exposed on social media she came out as being the “in close fourth place” in “a twitter poll a listener made of the Most Hateable Person in AGGGTM” after an abusive father, a murderer and a rapist. Her grief at Nat da Silva’s implacable hostility to her felt palpable.
And Jackson depicts this darkness inside Pip as the “the pit in her stomach” swallowing and housing her negative thoughts, and the scream waiting to burst inside her.
Because this novel, more than the first, really explores the theme of justice as distinct from the law. Which will be hard to explore much further without giving out spoilers. But the police and police procedures are seen to fail in this book: the failure to search for Jamie is procedurally correct, but was it just? Will Max Hastings’ trial result in a just result? Is the truth being uncovered enough if the outcome is not just?
And how far would Pip – how far would any of us go – in the face of a legally unimpeachable situation which we knew to be wrong? She certainly takes a step beyond being a detective in the course of this novel, which potentially opens up the prospect of some very dark places in future novels. I don’t think the Max Hastings plot has finished yet…
The resolution of the novel, and the identity of the mysterious Layla Mead, was signposted perhaps a little too early and a little too heavily – but was very satisfying in its clearing up of loose ends. Structurally, Jackson has crafted an exceptional thriller for her audience, although it did tip a little bit into melodrama at the climax for my taste.
What did work extremely well, however, was Jackson’s depiction of Pip’s shock at that finale. The sudden and disconcerting slide into present tense, into a jumble of images and dialogue and something that began to look and feel just a little like the poetry of trauma. It was one of the more credible depictions of being in shock that I have read for a while. And I doubt that that trauma will be healed by the next book.
Plot / Pace:
Page Count: 432
Publisher: Electric Monkey
Date: 30th April 2020