A Good Girl’s Guide To Murder by Holly Jackson

The Blurb On The Back:

The case is closed.

Five years ago, schoolgirl Andie Bell was murdered by Sal Singh. The police know he did it.  Everyone in town knows he did it.

But having grown up in the same small town that was consumed by the murder, Pippa Fitz-Amobi isn’t so sure.  When she chooses the case as the topic for her final-year project, she starts to uncover secrets that someone in town desperately wants to stay hidden.  And if the real killer is still out there, how far will they go to keep Pip from the truth? 

You can order A GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO MURDER by Holly Jackson from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

It’s summer 2017.  17 year old Pippa “Pip” Fitz-Amobi lives in the small Buckinghamshire village of Little Kilton with her younger brother, Joshua, her mum and her stepdad Victor.  She’s a good student who wants to study English Literature at Cambridge University and is teased by her best friends Lauren and Cara for being too dedicated to her studies to the exclusion of everything else.  

For a final year project, she elects to revisit the biggest thing to ever happen to Little Kilton: the disappearance of 17-year-old Andie Bell 5 years earlier.  Everyone – even the police – believe that Andie was murdered by her boyfriend, Sal Singh, on the grounds that he committed suicide shortly afterwards and left a confession to the crime.  But Andie’s body has never been found and having known Sal a little, Pip can’t reconcile his personality with what he was accused of.

She persuades Sal’s younger brother, Ravi, to share what the family know of the police investigation and sets about tracking down those who were close to Andie and Sal at the time  – including Cara’s older sister, Naomi.  But the more she digs into who Andie was, her relationship with Sal and what happened on the night she disappeared, the more she realises that things don’t add up and that Andie had a dark side that the media never reported on.  Worst of all – there’s someone who knows what happened that night, they know that Pip is investigating, and they’ll do whatever it takes to make her stop …

Holly Jackson’s debut YA thriller is a page turner that’s perfect for SERIAL obsessed readers that cleverly mixes third person narration with extracts from Pip’s report notes to provide background, advance the plot and allow readers to take stock.  However, there’s perhaps too much plot for this novel and some strands don’t get developed as much as they should, while the revelation at the end didn’t quite convince in terms of motivation.

There’s a lot to enjoy in this book.  I thought Pip was a great character and actually reminded me a lot of what I was like at that age – she’s driven, determined but also a little reserved and shy and not comfortable going to parties – I liked the fact that she puts her schoolwork first and has an eye on her future.  Her friendship with Lauren and Cara comes across fairly believably (with one caveat, which I will come to) with Jackson doing a good job with their dialogue and the banter and in jokes. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Pip and her step-father Victor (who I would have loved to have seen more of) not least because the fact that he is black and Pip is white gives Jackson scope to point out what micro-aggressions are and the difference in their experience in a subtle way that still resonates with the reader.

The device of interspersing the third person narration with Pip’s report notes is really smart because it allows Jackson to keep the investigation moving while recapping what Pip’s learned, contextualising it into how Andie’s disappearance was covered and then giving the reader a chance to work out who they think is responsible and what they think happened.  The investigation itself works fairly well, although I did wish that Ravi had been given more to do given he’s set up here as a love interest because it would have created more page time for that romance to develop more effectively (although equally, I did like the fact that Pip largely pursues this by herself because I do like an independent MC). 

However Jackson tries to cover a lot of ground in this book in terms of issues (e.g. “date rape”, mental illness, media behaviour and poor parenting) and at times I did wish that she’d pared some of it down because some aspects – notably the date rape element – come across as checklist plot points and, for me, didn’t get sufficient consideration of the devastation they cause.  I also wasn’t convinced by the ending.  This is partly because the events become very rushed in the final quarter but also because, for me, Jackson is too keen to let the antagonists off the hook without having really done the set-up to justify that.  I certainly did not believe in the behaviour of one of the antagonists (which would essentially require them to be completely delusional) because so many of their actions had been deliberately calculating.  I also felt that there needed to be more consideration of how a key revelation would impact on Pip’s friends and that Jackson needed to show the fallout from it because the postscript just kind of implies that everything’s fine and dandy, which I did find difficult to believe in the circumstances.

If I’m being picky then there were a couple of scenes that didn’t ring true within the book – e.g. a scene where Pip confronts a journalist who branded Sal the killer has her accusing him of defamation but the journalist doesn’t point out that you can’t defame the dead.  There are some plot strands that don’t really get tied up, although I don’t know if that’s because Jackson plans to return to them in a different book (and if she is, then I would definitely be interested in reading it).

For all my criticism though, this is a fast-paced read that held my attention and I will definitely check out what Jackson writes next.   

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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