Everyone loves Summer Ryan. A model student and musical prodigy, she’s a ray of light in the struggling small town of Grace, Alabama – especially compared to her troubled sister, Raine. Then Summer vanishes.
Raine throws herself into the investigation, aided by a most unlikely ally, but the closer she gets to the truth, the more dangerous her search becomes.
And perhaps there was always more to Summer than met the eye . . .
‘“God’s darkened Grace, Chief Black … The clouds pour down their moisture, and abundant showers fall on mankind”’
I adored Chris Whitaker’s debut novel Tall Oaks and had heard so many great things about All The Wicked Girls, his second novel that I was dying to get my hands on it. As is often the case when you have heard nothing but praise for a book, I went in to All The Wicked Girls with a sense of excitement and trepidation.
Set in the small town of Grace in Alabama’s bible belt, All The Wicked Girls centres around a spate of girls going missing in the local area. When much-loved Summer Ryan goes missing her twin sister, Raine, along with two local boys carries out her own investigation as to what has happened to her.
I always have to remind myself that Chris Whitaker is a British author when reading his books as he writes so convincingly as an American. The sense of place and the character’s voices all come across as authentic. From the outset I found myself reading All The Wicked Girls with a southern American drawl. Whitaker tells the story through the perspective of Summer, leading up to the point in which she goes missing, and through the perspective of Raine, the police officers investigating and Noah and Purv, the two boys assisting Raine.
I have to confess that initially I struggled to get into this book partly, I think, due to the amount of characters I had to get my head around and also because I had, perhaps, gone into it expecting it to be a certain way. It therefore took me a little while to settle into it and fully appreciate it. All The Wicked Girls is a slow burner and the characters, imagery and setting are all of as equal importance as the central storyline. If I had to, I’m not sure what genre I would put this book in.
In fitting with the setting, sin and religion play a huge part in this book. Grace is a small town that has had the industry and life sucked out of it. While the various inhabitants of Grace struggle to build a life and survive via a variety of methods that include prostitution, alcohol misuse, and abuse, they continue to attend church and hope for redemption via confessing their sins. As someone who doesn’t subscribe to any religious beliefs and often struggles with, what seems to me, the hypocrisy of it all and yet is fascinated by it, I really enjoyed this aspect of the book.
All The Wicked Girls is a very dark book and the overall feeling of oppression consumes you as you read it. In keeping with the religious angle of the book, Whitaker effectively uses the contrast of light and dark to evoke atmosphere and get across the extreme religious views of original sin and what constitutes as ‘right’ and ‘wrong’. Dealing with some difficult topics, there were a couple of times in the book when I felt my heart break.
As Whitaker carefully plots the story with cleverly placed red herrings, I did not manage to guess what had happened to Summer Ryan. The actual outcome surprised me, but not in the usual way. I initially felt a bit deflated, however, as the book came to a close I found myself appreciating it. There is so much more to this book than the central storyline and, on reflection, it fitted perfectly. A little cryptic, I know, but you will have to read it yourself to find out what I am talking about!
Brilliantly constructed, wonderfully written and yet heavily oppressive, All The Wicked Girls is a book that weighed heavy on my mind and that I came to appreciate more as I progressed through the book. A totally unique take on ‘the missing girl’ scenario.
Published on 24 August 2017 by Bonnier Zaffre you can buy a copy HERE.
My thanks go to Chris Whitaker and Emily at Bonnier Zaffre for my copy in exchange for my review.