The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

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The Maidens by Alex Michaelides

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Category: Crime
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: An outstanding whodunnit/thriller with a jaw-dropping denouement. I can't recommend it highly enough.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: June 2021
Publisher: W&N
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-1409181668

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Mariana was convinced that Professor Edward Fosca had committed two murders and looked likely to get away with them both. She needed to think carefully about what she knew and decide how she should proceed.

Everything - or so she thought - had begun with the death of Tara Hampton on the Paradise nature reserve in Cambridge. She'd been brutally stabbed and Mariana's niece, Zoe, had telephoned her in distress. Tara had been her best friend and she was struggling to cope. Mariana wasn't entirely happy about having to go to Cambridge, but she caught the first fast train from King's Cross. Mariana and Zoe were close and had been made all the more so by the death of Mariana's husband, Sebastian, in a swimming accident on Naxos some fourteen months earlier. Zoe had been their surrogate daughter after the death of Zoe's mother and Mariana's sister, Eliza.

Mariana had been much the same age as Zoe when she'd met Sebastian in Cambridge and the visit brings back some bittersweet memories. She could have done without the attentions on the train of a young man called Fred, a theoretical physicist. He's rather younger than Mariana but is determined that they will have a relationship. Very early on he says that he sees himself asking Mariana to marry him - and her accepting. Worryingly, he seems to know just a little bit too much about Mariana. There's another difficult man in Mariana's life: Henry Booth is a patient in the group psychotherapy sessions she runs and he's reluctant to restrict contact to the group meetings. He wants Mariana to be there for him, no matter what her other commitments: she's nervous about how far he'll go to force the situation.

Just occasionally, I'm reluctant to start a review of a book I've read because it's so good that I'm doubtful that I'll be able to do it justice. The Maidens is one of those books. The titular maidens are a group of female students tutored by Edward Fosca. There's an aura of wealth and privilege about them which sets them apart but doesn't encourage liking or respect. Tara Hamilton was one of the maidens - and she won't be the last to die.

The plot is exceptional: just when I thought I had it all worked out Alex Michaelides delivers a jaw-dropping denouement. Yes - the clues were all there and I missed every one of them. I'd been quietly led up the garden path - and had even enjoyed every minute of it. The characterisation is superb. Even relatively minor characters come off the page fully formed, to the extent that when I think back to some of the less-important characters they somehow don't seem unimportant in retrospect. That's clever.

I read this far too quickly - the writing is classy and Michaelides puts a lot of trust in his readers. It's easy to read 'just another chapter' until there's so little left that there's no point in stopping. It's a book to buy rather than to borrow as you're going to want to read it again to see how it was done.

I'd like to thank the publishers for letting Bookbag have a review copy.

For more Cambridge crime, we can recommend Alison Bruce's DC Gary Goodhew Novels and a couple of books by Emily Winslow: The Whole World and The Start of Everything.

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