All the Wicked Girls is a book about siblings. It is a book about crime, about redemption, about loss and family, about grief and change.

Raine Ryan is the ‘Bad Apple’ in her family. The black sheep, the rebel. Completely different to her twin sister, Summer, the cello-playing musical prodigy. The perfect student, and the apple of their parents eye. They are growing up in the economically struggling small town of Grace, Alabama, where nothing ever happens, before nothing happens again. It all changes when Summer goes missing, and Raine does everything to find the sister that she loves.

The story is one of desperation, of people outside the social norm becoming suspects, where outsiders are treated differently, where everybody becomes a suspect. Assisted by Noah and Purv, old school friends, because the police force are already at breaking point, Raine puts herself into all sorts of dangerous situations, even though the news proves to be bleak, and the ending of the novel is as heart-breaking as we all believed it would be.

With something of Harper Lee’s eye for characterisation, of good people doing desperate deeds for the greater good, the novel uses the tradition of the Southern Gothic to fine effect. Each chapter is told from the viewpoint of the two sisters, with Raine looking at things after Summer’s disappearance, and Summer discussing the events that led up to her decisions, which were not as clear-cut as the image with which she felt herself confined.

Both sisters seem to be caught in what their town, and their parents expect. Summer is expected to soar, Raine isn’t expected to make old bones, so their behaviour conforms to, but also tries to subvert these narrow definitions. Religion and the church feature heavily, but so do emotions, with Joe, the father of the twins desperately going to any length to find his missing daughter. The summer is a hot one, with an angry crowd furious at the impotent police force, and turning on each other. This is a fine study of desperate characters led to desperate extremes, of humanity pushed to the emotional limit, of trying to remain hopeful, when that hope fades fast with each passing hour.

Ben Macnair 4/3

All the Wicked Girls by Chris Whitaker
Zaffre 9781785761522 pbk Aug 2017