Pip Fitz-Amobi is haunted by the way her last investigation ended. Soon she’ll be leaving for Cambridge University but then another case finds her . . . and this time it’s all about Pip.
Pip is used to online death threats, but there’s one that catches her eye, someone who keeps asking: who will look for you when you’re the one who disappears? And it’s not just online. Pip has a stalker who knows where she lives. The police refuse to act and then Pip finds connections between her stalker and a local serial killer. The killer has been in prison for six years, but Pip suspects that the wrong man is behind bars. As the deadly game plays out, Pip realises that everything in Little Kilton is finally coming full circle. If Pip doesn’t find the answers, this time she will be the one who disappears . . .
In my reading, at times, I wonder about my moral compass.
I read books about killers and psychopaths, about the mischievous and the murderous; I delve into the minds of the mad and the bad, unreliable narrators whose grip on reality is slender.
So, perhaps, I should thank Holly Jackson. For in this – the third book of her Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series, I found the limit of my moral liberality.
But I am perhaps getting ahead of myself.
This novel picks up right on the heels of Good Girl, Bad Blood with Pip Fitz-Amobi still reeling from the dramatic trauma of that finale. I’m trying to avoid spoiling any of these novels here, but it is the violent death at the end of that novel that is haunting her. Flashbacks. Auditory hallucinations of bullet shots. Visual hallucinations of blood on her hands. Sleepless nights, that lead to her increasing reliance on – dependency on – addiction to illegal sleeping tablets that escalate from xanax to rohypnol. If Pip has a fatal flaw – hamartia as the Greek tragedians might say – it is her obstinacy in refusing to seek help and, to be fair to Jackson, that has been consistent through the three books. And, seriously, even if she did not seek help (medical or personal) she was crying out in need of it!
And to heal herself, Pip is casting around for one more case.
Unbeknownst to her, however, a serial killer hiding in plain sight in Little Kilton has set their sights on her and is closing in. The final case is to unmask that serial killer before he kills Pip – “save myself to save myself” and Pip continually tells us.
And so starts – after a slow opening – is a thrilling and tense game of cat and mouse between Pip and the killer – and that was the strength of A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder at the end of the day. Dead birds – surely the neighbour’s cat. Chalk marks – even if they were there, just kids, right? Messages online – these things happen, don’t they? Chalk figure creeping closer to the house, up the walls…. Some lovely genuinely creepy moments…
But all this changes drastically about half way through. And this is so tricky to write without at least [[minor spoilers ahead]] but the killer captures Pip who escapes and, although on the verge of safety, she returns and kills the killer. [Look, at least I haven’t told you who the serial killer is, have I? And even kept the pronouns gender neutral! I am trying here!]
But Pip’s descent into murder is not where I lost sympathy for her. Nor in her desperate attempts to escape justice by manipulating the crime scene and time of death, and creating a series of false alibis. Nope. Where I lost it was in her realisation that she would never be safe until a conviction had been secured – so long as it wasn’t hers.
So she tries to frame another person.
What?! Seriously? That is where my moral compass appears to draw the line, it appears. It totally destroyed my ability to empathise with her. Yes, the character whom she tries to frame is a sleaze and not an innocent person in any meaningful way, but they were not guilty of this murder. No, Pip Fitz-Amobi, no!
This was not the only issue I had with the book – although it was by far the biggest. I found that Pip’s refusal to talk things through with her wide support network again deeply annoying. The question left by the killer as they close in is
who will look for you when you’re the one who disappears?
And Pippa – when kidnapped – actually considers that question and answers it – her parents, her brother, Ravi, her friends, Cara and Ward, Connor and Jamie Reynolds, Nat da Silva … She has a not insignificant number of people to whom she can turn and she doesn’t. Well, she does confide in Ravi.
And by twisting out of the conventions of the detective novel into something… else, Jackson loses the drive of that plot. There is no real end point, no chance of true resolution and the novel loses its sense of direction.
Would I read another book by Jackson? Yes I would – she does craft a great plot-driven narrative. Would I read another novel in the A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series? Possibly not.
What I Liked
- The courage Jackson had to subvert the conventions of the detective fiction – we should be courageous even if in this case, it really did not work for me.
- The first half, as the serial killer creeps closer and closer – Jackson does do a good job in creating tension here.
- I did like the way that this novel picked up characters and character threads introduced back in the first book: there was a clear cohesion between the three novels – cricky I do sound like a teacher there!
What Could Have Been Different
- Pip might, I don’t know, not have tried to frame her murder on an innocent character, however sleazy. Logically, I know it makes sense. But in terms of characterisation, it killed Pip for me.
- The depictions of the hallucinations, the PTSD response, were too frequent and repetitive, and I did not find them disturbing or shocking enough from a narrative point of view.
- The pacing of the plot dropped off once Pip became a murderer.