I finished The Maidens* last night and it was the best plot twist I have read in a long time! The book takes you on a journey to Cambridge, where a series of mysterious murders of female students are taking place. The narrator of the book, a therapist from London, ends up investigating all of this on her own since her dead sister's daughter is also a student at the Cambridge college being haunted by the murders.
As a Cambridge graduate, I enjoyed the (very accurate) portrayal of college life and it felt like a journey back to a place I left not so long ago. But even if you have no ties to Cambridge, the book gives you enough description to understand the sometimes slightly strange peculiarities of Cambridge University life.
But the scenery is not what makes this book great - no, it is the incredible plot! The book kept me turning page after page in suspense. You think the suspect of our wannabe detective is so obviously a good suspect, but it also makes you think that he's maybe just too good of a suspect. After all, would he really be that dumb? And what about the other admittedly strange and at times worryingly obsessive characters in the book? The patient who follows our main character without her consent and seems mentally unstable. Or the man who keeps appearing and telling the main character one day she will agree to marry him, even though they have only just met. The book is filled with characters that are strange, but not too strange to not be believable. This crazy story overwhelmingly unfolds in a way that seems entirely believable to the reader. I said "overwhelmingly" because there is a point late in the book where an event from the past is described that seems almost too strange to be true, even for those characters, but once you get to the end of the book, it makes sense (spoiler alert: I am talking about Zoe's description of her initiation into the group).
[If you do not want any hints at the plot twist, skip this paragraph. I would not consider this a real spoiler, though, because I would not have guessed the plot from this] What makes this plot so great is that it relies on something we are taught early on in our literature classes in school: know your narrator and question their reliability. Do they have access to all the information needed, are they biased in some way, etc? When you reach the final page, the plot twist seems so obvious. The author does an incredible job of building up to this reveal without us noticing it. He distracts the reader in the best way possible and we go along with it without realising it. In short, this is the perfect planning I expected to have gone into the Pretty Little Liars ending (yes, all shade very much intended).
The only thing I would criticise about this book is that the psychological knowledge of the narrator sometimes came across as the knowledge of someone who read a Psych 101 book and now considers themselves an expert. She seems relatively sure of the assessments she makes of certain mental illnesses, how they are formed, etc, but also severely underestimates the extent of mental instability of a patient of hers and overall, the discussions on psychology felt pretty superficial. But since I am not a psychology major, I do not know whether they actually were superficial or whether the author also maybe just tried to give us a rather broad overview instead of going into details that were not needed for the plot.
Overall, I really enjoyed the journey on which this book took me and I would highly recommend it. The 'murder mystery genre' is normally not the genre I would go for in a book store, but I am really glad that I picked up this book.
Lots of Love,
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