Thirty-six year old Mariana works as a group therapist in London as she mourns the loss of her beloved husband Sebastian, who drowned off the coast of the Greek island of Naxos a year earlier. When her niece Zoë calls her and tells her that her best friend has been found dead, Mariana seizes the chance and travels to Cambridge to offer comfort. But she soon finds herself in the middle of the investigation, and as other girls turn up dead she looks toward a secretive group of girls who call themselves The Maidens…
It’s about a secret society, stupid.
Getting a book published is difficult, though reading The Maidens one would be tempted to reach a different conclusion. And in all fairness, I haven’t read Michaelides’ previous outing, The Silent Patient, which the internet tells me is far superior (though the internet is divided on the subject and judging from the description of outlandish plot twists I suspect I would not like that one either). And it’s not that Michaelides can’t write. The prose is fine. It’s the pacing that’s off. Way off.
It’s a fairly slim volume (less than 300 pages in paperback) with too many damn twists. Sometimes it feels like I’m reading his draft version slash plot outline rather than the actual story, as if he regretted certain plot elements but couldn’t be arsed to write them out and instead chooses to resolve them with the writerly equivalent of duct tape. Next, he steps on the brakes and goes on a tangent about… Greece? The value of therapy? The city of Cambridge? Which I get, because Cambridge is lovely and atmospheric and a great setting for crime fiction, but that’s not why I read the book.
As characters go, Mariana is kind of middle of the road. She’s not super annoying but doesn’t really have anything to offer either, and Michaelides can’t seem to make up his mind as to whether she’s strong and clever or weepy and traumatised. I get that people can be both things, but it’s like there are two Marianas in the the book that don’t line up.
Aside from pacing issues, what bugged me the most is just how derivative it is. A secret society? Full of beautiful women? At an ancient institution? Yeah, we’ve heard it before. That doesn’t have to be a problem if the writing is good, but it just… Isn’t.
I was surprised I finished this book; it picked up a little in the third half, though the conclusion is just stupid and clearly only written for shock value because apparently, that’s a thing now: readers want a big plottwist they didn’t see coming. Well, I didn’t see it coming and it did keep me guessing, that’s true, but plot twists only really work if you drop clues throughout the novel. But even without that, this novel feels unfinished, rushed, chaotic. Maybe it could have worked with a good editor, but as it is it’s just a big mess.