Good Girls Die First by Kathryn Foxfield

The Blurb On The Back:

THE NIGHT BEGAN WITH BLACKMAIL:

Eight o’clock.  Portgrave Pier.  Can you keep a secret?

Ten teenagers lured to a derelict carnival.  Each one with a dark past they are determined to keep hidden.  As they start to die, is it an unknown killer they need to fear … or each other?

Mind games.  Murder.  Mayhem.

HOW FAR WOULD YOU GO TO SURVIVE THE NIGHT?

You can buy GOOD GIRLS DIE FIRST by Kathryn Foxfield from Amazon USA, Amazon UKWaterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

16-year-old Ava lives in the faded seaside town of Portgrave.  A talented photographer, who’s never without her camera, she’s garnered a decent following on Instagram for her pictures and dreams of getting away as soon as she’s old enough.  

Those dreams are currently on hold because someone has discovered a secret that Ava would much rather be kept hidden.  She’s been sent an “invitation” alluding to what she did and telling her to get to Portgrave Pier for 8pm.  The pier links Portgrave with a small island where The Magnificent Baldo ran an amusement park but no one’s been there for over 40 years, not since the island was ravaged by a mysterious fire.  

Ava thinks she’s the only person about to be blackmailed until her best friend Jolie turns up with an invitation of her own.  The two of them used to be close until an accidental fire at Jolie’s house left her brother with life-changing burns and ever since, Ava thinks that Jolie’s been pulling away.  Putting their differences aside, they head over to the pleasure island to take on the blackmailer only to find 8 other people from their school waiting for them, each with their own invitation: posh boy Teddy, would-be-musician Clem, star athlete Olly, mean-girl Scarlett, drug-addled Livia, bad boy Noah, ice queen Esme and would-be mean girl Imogen.  

Together, they try to work out who has brought them to the island, and why but it isn’t long for frictions to form between the group and then, slowly, they find themselves being killed off one-by one … 

Who – or what – has brought them to the island and what does it mean to be the one?

Kathryn Foxfield’s debut YA novel is a horror/thriller mash-up that, for me, fails to deliver in either genre.  The characters are paper thin, their secrets either too easy to guess or so inconsequential that it made me wonder why they were worried and the world building too ethereal.  There’s an interesting central idea about the power of guilt to overwhelm you, but ultimately I just didn’t care enough about the teens or their plight.

I wanted to like this book because I’m a fan of horrors and thrillers generally and Foxfield wrote this as a love letter to Point Horror and Agatha Christie and the first couple of chapters start strongly with Foxfield establishing the relationship between Ava and Jolie.  In fact, I initially had high hopes for Jolie in particular as she’s strongly sketched with her attitude and panda onesie while Ava is the more cautious character who always watches the world through her camera lens rather than participate in it.

Unfortunately the book goes off the boil once the other 8 characters are introduced.  None of them is anything other than a caricature and their secrets are for the most part easy to guess, not least because Foxfield drops heavy hints as to how some of their back stories are intertwined.  The supernatural part of the story takes a long time to develop with Whispers not really making an appearance until after the half-way point and at the same time, it’s really not clear why he needs only one of the teens (or, indeed, how they’re supposed to get back off the island given the riptides and destroyed pier), how he found the teens in the first place or how he’s been able to linger so long without anyone in the town ever mentioning him (even as an urban legend).  To be fair, there is a hint at something sinister as the teens are told to stay away from the peer but given the supernatural goings on, I’d have liked something a bit more explicit about its history to tie it all together.

Part of the reason why the pace of this book didn’t work for me is because the world building is so poorly defined.  The teenagers all change character according to Whisper’s influence and Ava loses periods of time, which would be fine if we got an explanation for how this all works.  Foxfield seems to say that Whispers is able to control time and the environment on the island but that does then raise the question of why he needs a human host if he’s so powerful.  There’s also a bit of a whiff of Whisper’s powers being strong when Foxfield needs the plot to go in a particular direction and the fact that Ava and the other teens are so slow to grasp what’s going on made it increasingly difficult for me to empathise with them.

The story has an open ending, which would have worked better had I cared more for the survivor.  It’s a shame because at the core of the book is the theme of how guilt can eat you alive and how guilt and fear can lead to dark acts and had the characters been more fully realised I think that would have had more of an impact.  As it is, it just didn’t work for me as either a horror novel or a thriller and I can’t say that I’d hurry to read Foxfield’s next book on the strength of this.

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