Good Me Bad Me: The Richard & Judy Book Club thriller 2017
By Ali Land
Annie’s mother is a serial killer. The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police. But out of sight is not out of mind. As her mother’s trial looms, the secrets of her past won’t let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name – Milly. A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.Tweet
Reading this is like watching a horror film from behind the sofa. You want to know what happens but don't want to see it. It hooked me from the very beginning while scaring me with the way it was heading. It's menacing and creepy. The subject matter is awful but it is compelling. We see the story from the point of view of a 'hidden' character (the daughter) in the case of a serial killer. It's why we 'like' to read about such cases in the news, at a safe distance. This book brings you right into the world of a serial killer and the effects on other people involved. It's also a portrait of teenage life and how difficult it can be. Good premise, effectively done. Not for the squeamish.
This is a chilling, psychological thriller. It is gripping from the start, full of suspense and a real page-turner most of the time. It is also well written and the language flows easily.
Annie, the main character, is 15 and she lives with her mother who is a serial killer. One day, Annie has had enough and she reports her mother to the police. Things then escalate very quickly - Mum is incarcerated pending trial and Annie is given a new identity and placed in foster care with a family that social services feel will be able to cope with a child who must inevitably be very damaged. The new family group comprises the father (a psychologist by profession), an ineffectual mother and a teenage daughter the same age as Annie. Frictions and jealousies develop between the two teenagers which cause all sorts of problems. But there is a lot more going on in Annies’s life, including preparing for being a witness at her Mother’s impending trial.
Annie is indeed damaged from her very unusual upbringing. She has developed a way of coping with her life and even of controlling her environment, but is a very private person. I have no idea whether this is realistic for someone with Annie’s background as I cannot begin to understand what it must have been like for her. However, Ali (the author) has experience and training in mental health and I can only assume that she has drawn on this experience to develop the character. The end result is certainly convincing.
However it is not all perfect. I found that the narrative dragged a little at times which had the effect of making it “boring” rather than “thrilling”. Also, given the subject matter it was sometimes an uncomfortable read, not that that is necessarily a bad thing. Finally, I have no way of knowing how plausible the main character is, but I did have trouble relating to her at times.
Nearly everybody in our book group enjoyed it, although some found it too chilling (in a "wanting to hide behind the sofa" sort of way) and a couple thought it was over-rated and not chilling at all. You can't please everyone!!
Overall a good thriller which is definitely worth reading. Well done Ali on a very good debut novel.
NOIR WITH KNOBS ON
Superficially, this a gripping noir story about the 15 year old daughter of a serial child-murderer, who cannot bear to witness her mother’s grooming and killing any longer. Very much shades of Fred and Rose West. Daughter Annie has dobbed-in her mother to the police and enters a secret witness protection scheme as “Milly”, fostered and prepared for giving evidence at her mother’s trial in the home of Mike, a forensic psychologist, with his wife, Saskia, and teenage daughter Phoebe. As the story develops through to the trial and aftermath, we slowly learn more and more about what actually happened and our initial certainty about the events and who is responsible is challenged. But this book is so much more than the bare recital of events and culpability.
Where do the knobs come into it?
Throughout, there are very effective, ascerbic glances at human behaviour and relationships: the bitchiness and group-think of the teenage schoolgirls in their social exclusion and bullying of Milly; the sexual frustration and boredom of Saskia in her comfortable, but emotionally dysfunctional, family life; the inability of Mike, the “caring professional”, to provide emotionally for his own family, all his emotional energy being exhausted on his patients.
Ali Land also very cleverly develops the idea of evil as if it were an infection: something that can be passed-on from one person to another, initially detected and rationalised by the “recipient” as something merciful and pragmatic; but, like most infections, it takes hold and develops rapidly.
This is a book that will keep you thinking, one you will not want to put down.