Wow. I'm actually surprised by how much I liked this! It was on a million "best of" lists at the end of last year, and I got all charged up about readWow. I'm actually surprised by how much I liked this! It was on a million "best of" lists at the end of last year, and I got all charged up about reading it...and then the library only had one copy and I was number 18 on the hold list. So I read a couple of other books in the series, and it actually kind of soured me on wanting to read this for a while. In the Woods was so disappointing in that it left a huge mystery unsolved and also became far more about the personal problems of the detectives than the case. I ranted about it at length in my review! Faithful Place was better from a wrapping things up standpoint, but it also took SO long for the plot to get going. This book solves both of those problems!
We actually met Holly Mackey back in Faithful Place, when she was just an innocent nine-year-old trying to get a murder confession out of her uncle (great parenting there, Frank!). Here, she's a teenager in boarding school, and she shows up in Stephen Moran's office in Cold Cases with a photo of a boy who's been dead for a year, bearing the caption "I know who killed him." She claims to have found it tacked up on The Secret Place, a bulletin board sanctioned by the school (wtf?), where anyone can post anonymous secrets. I guess it's a way to combat anonymous online bullying? And apparently they monitor it? As a teacher, this just seems like a terrible idea. Anyway, Stephen also made an appearance in Faithful Place (full disclosure, I remember fuck all about his character!), and she trusts him. The boy in question is Christopher Harper, a student at a neighboring boys' prep school, who was found dead on the grounds of Kilda's. The case is still unsolved, so Stephen jumps at the chance to be part of it -- after all, he could end up one of the elites in Murder.
(Sidebar: maybe it's because I'm not from a police family and know squat about that world, but I just do not understand the obsession everyone in these books has with being part of Murder. What makes this department more elite than the others? From what I've seen, they all sort of seem like asswipes. And yet all of these bright-eyed young detectives are peeing themselves at the chance to join up.)
Anyway, enter detective Antoinette Conway. She's still holding a grudge about not solving this case a year ago, and although she's not thrilled at having to babysit Stephen, she realizes he can be an asset, because he has one thing she lacks: charm. People like Stephen. People trust Stephen. People want to talk to Stephen. Conway has one mode: bad cop. It's like she's physically unable to make herself be charming (kind of like Rosa on Brooklyn 99, only not funny). It's a little frustrating, because you kind of want to smack her and tell her to stop being such a wang all the time and maybe people would talk to her...but at the same time, the story isn't really about her. She's basically a cipher so Stephen can look better and come out as the hero (although I have a feeling that if there is a 6th Murder Squad book, it'll be about her).
The action of the investigation itself takes place in the course of a single, excruciatingly long, day. Holly drops off the note, Stephen and Conway saddle up, and the questioning begins anew. The detectives end up focused on two particular groups: Holly and her three friends (Selena, Julia, and Becca), and another foursome of girls led by head bitch Joanne. There's bad blood between the two groups for no real reason; teenagers are terrible, teenage girls can frequently be awful to one another...this tracks. I can't even imagine what it would be like to teach at a boarding school where the kids can't get away from each other at the end of the day. When it comes to teenagers and emotions, everything is already dialed up to 11. In that kind of environment? It's probably doubled, at least!
Back when I read In the Woods, I wished French had gone the non-linear route. Instead of focusing so much on Ryan's existential angst and childhood trauma (which is never fucking solved and that is never not going to piss me off!), I wanted more on the backstory of that screwed up family. I wanted to know more about Katy (? I think that was her name?) before her death, since we don't have any evidence for motivation to go on besides her incredibly unhinged killer's. Here, French actually does go non-linear, to great effect. In between the detectives' investigation, every other chapter focuses on the girls at school in the year leading up to Chris's murder. And literally all 8 of them are potential suspects at one point. French kept me guessing first about who did the deed, then about who planted the note, and she had me fooled. (view spoiler)[I really thought Holly was responsible: she brought in the note because she wanted to know who else knew what she's done. But it is, indeed, always the one you least suspect (it was interesting that all of them had a hand in the phone thing, though). I also didn't guess that she planted the note herself. In terms of motive, in the end? Eh. Like I said, I get the dialed up to 11 times two thing, but it feels like Rebecca just snapped in order to convince herself that she needed to make a sacrifice to save their friendship, or some bullshit. It's a little like the bacchanal thing in The Secret History (except there it somehow made a little more sense). There's this whole subplot where the girls might have telekinetic powers, and they make this vow to never date, and then Selena starts seeing Chris, who is probably a dick, but it might actually be The Real Thing... It ends up a little muddled. But Becca is wholly convinced that she's done the right thing, in terms of keeping the magic alive, or whatever. (hide spoiler)]
Thankfully, everything is resolved, in a way I didn't see coming 200 pages in advance, there are no weird red herrings left unresolved, and best of all no hints about either detective having some Deep Dark Secret which motivates them to Seek Justice. It's just a great, entertaining story that will keep you guessing and also maybe make you glad you are no longer a teenage girl. Because as Stephen himself says, "teenage girls make Moriarty look like a babe in the woods." So true and scary. ["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I mean...you don't get this far into this ridiculous series without knowing what you're getting into. It's kind of dumb and it makes zero sense and thI mean...you don't get this far into this ridiculous series without knowing what you're getting into. It's kind of dumb and it makes zero sense and the characters in no way resemble real people, but if you go in knowing this is the case, somehow it's less rage-inducing. ...more
It occurs to me that I never reviewed this. But it's hard to review a short story collection, thus, a list:
These are not short stories, they are "taleIt occurs to me that I never reviewed this. But it's hard to review a short story collection, thus, a list:
These are not short stories, they are "tales." Atwood is clear about that in her author's note. It's like she's speaking directly to me! Any time I see the word "stories" after a book's title, it's like my eyes glaze over and I physically can't make myself get interested. I have no idea why. But calling this collection "nine tales"? Somehow gets rid of that weird short story stigma.
The first three tales are interconnected, which was a smart way to start. Alphinland reminded me a bit of Fillory from the Magicians series. I would happily have read an entire novel based around that!
There wasn't really a stinker in the bunch (which is usually the case with story collections). I wasn't crazy about the Zenia story, but mostly because it's been several years since I read The Robber Bride. I think if you haven't read that novel, the story has even less impact.
I loved The Freeze Dried Groom and the titular Stone Mattress. I also love that Atwood's husband apparently gave her the idea for that one.
This is a great collection, and I'm mad I didn't get around to reading it sooner. I preordered The Heart Goes Last approximately 4 seconds after I saw it was a thing, and yet it took me several months to order this book, and few more to read it.Then I tried not to devour it all in one sitting so I could remember the tales more clearly. It's wonderful. Read it!...more