Published by Simon & Schuster Australia (7th July 2021)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Actual rating of 3.75
Marlowe will do anything to get out of her sleepy little town. To go anywhere else, to make a name for herself in journalism. When she’s covering the local show for the paper, she gets just that chance. She stumbles upon the mutilated corpse of resident show girl Lily, who was also Marlowe’s best friend. Finding seven strange symbols carved into Lily’s back, Marlowe knows that something big is happening, when her father – the police chief – asks her to omit the fact that she saw the symbols, she knows that whatever’s happening runs deeper than she first thought. When the town is invaded by media after Lily’s murder makes national headlines, Marlowe knows that this is her chance to make a name for herself, to uncover what happened to Lily and the connection to the strange symbols she found, this will be the biggest story of her life. As Marlowe digs deep into the secrets of her sleepy little town, what she uncovers will change the course of her life forever, in ways that she never imagined.
The thing that caught me with this book was, firstly, the cover, secondly, the title, and thirdly, the mention of a mutilated corpse with strange symbols carved into her back. The mystery was just too deep to ignore so after seeing it in Dymocks and passing it by, I saw it in Kmart and just had to have it.
Initially, I wasn’t sure whether this story was going to work for me. The narration is quite cold and Marlowe is an incredibly unlikeable character who is also written as extremely cold. Though I’m wondering if this was on purpose. The coldness of the narration gave this story a very oppressed, and dark atmosphere which I think worked well for it, and after a little while, I was super invested in the mystery and just settled on the fact that Marlowe is not a good person.
The mystery itself is so well written, and I was glued to it once things got going. It was hard to put down because I just wanted answers and I needed to know what was going to happen next. West did a brilliant job of making the reader feel as isolated and alone as Marlowe did. Not knowing who to trust or what information to trust. It almost had an unreliable narrator feel, but without the narrator coming across as unreliable, I guess what I’m trying to say is, this story really kept me guessing and I just did not know what to believe, which was fantastic. The characters were written well enough, and I did care about what happened to them, but I just did not particularly like any of them. I’m not sure if this is because the characters needed a lot more development and layers to make them more relatable or whether West wrote her characters this way on purpose. The road that the story took was incredibly unexpected to me and I really loved it, it ended up being my kind of book without me even realising it at first, so that was great.
I’ve seen a few reviews that stated they rated this story down simply because West used an actual small Australian town as her story’s setting. I think she did it brilliantly, and for me, I’d be more inclined to visit the town after reading this book, simply because I’ve read about it. I believe that West grew up in this small town, so would know much better than outsiders how the town might be underneath all the pretty landscapes, I also believe she has a right to use the town she grew up in as her backdrop if she so wishes, as she lived there, most of her readers probably didn’t. I think she wrote what it’s like to grow up in a small town brilliantly. Having grown up in what I considered a small town, then moving to one in my adult life, she hit the nail on the head with the clicky, gossipy, closed mindedness that can come from small town communities, regardless of how picturesque they may seem to visitors. The overwhelming nature of being in a town where every body knows who you are when you just want to be left alone is real, and I think she captured it fantastically.
The story had so many twists and turns that just kept me reading this book long after I should have put it down to attend to other life stuff. I was so engaged with the need to find out what was true and who was telling the truth and that to me really is a nod to West’s craft as an author. Even with characters that I didn’t like, I was still so engaged in this story so that is a massive hat’s off from me. And the format that the story is written in, which we only see at the beginning and the end (you’ll understand what I’m talking about if you’ve read it) was something that I hadn’t seen before and it was a stroke of genius.
All in all, I don’t want to go into too much detail because I feel like going into this book mostly blind is the best way to read it. I would have rated this title higher had I actually liked the characters, but I just feel that they were either too cold for my liking or not developed enough for them to become endeared to me. I will admit, by the end I was rooting for Marlowe because of everything that happened, but I still didn’t like her. The beginning dragged a little and it took a little work to get into it, but once the mystery starts to unfold it became a page turner. And I’ll admit, I might have rated up like half a star because I like that she used a real place as the back drop for her story.
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