HQ | 2018 (31 May) | c.320p | Review copy | Buy the book
Two months have passed since the terrible, shocking events of Normal and I strongly advise that you read Normal first before you approach Dead Girls. These two novels definitely form a pair, even if the emphasis has changed in the second novel. This review assumes that you’ve read Normal and don’t mind knowing a little of what has gone before.
In Normal we were introduced to the most extraordinary serial killer, a man who murdered young women in the most horrendous ways while, at the same time, learning in spite of himself to love, to relate. Not that it stopped him killing, of course. He just thought about it a little more and allowed his relationships with some of these women to become ever more complex and tangled. In Dead Girls, it’s the job of DS Ali Green to sort it all out. It isn’t going to be easy. Ali is still struggling with the injuries she was left with two months before and some of these have stricken her deep within her mind – she has lost much of her memory, she often says things she can’t remember. She is haunted by what has happened. She should still be on sick leave but she’s been called back to work early. Two of the missing corpses from two months before have turned up – two policemen. It seems to be a message from the killer. They need Ali’s insight. Even if it turns her mad.
These are such witty books, often in the most shocking ways, as we’re presented with awful injuries and murder scenes. But because we see much of what happens here through the muddled mind and eyes of the traumatised Ali Green, it all takes on a slightly curious and even surreal edge. Nothing about this killer is normal. Nothing about what has happened to his victims is normal, even if they survived. We’re constantly reminded in frightening ways of what these women endured, what Ali went through, and what she and others will no doubt go through again. It’s dark and it’s also compelling.
In Normal the main focus was on the killer himself, inviting us to dare to like him. In Dead Girls, the focus has moved to the woman intent on destroying him once and for all, DS Ali Green. The killer is now in the shadows, the beast to be caught. I’m not sure that Dead Girls works quite as well as the brilliant Normal, and that’s largely due to this shift. Normal was so original, so odd, so mad! It was also published three years ago and so it’s difficult now, at least for me, to remember all that happened before. Reading the two together would, I think, be much more effective.
The writing in Dead Girls, though, is as witty as ever and these pages fly through the fingers as we move between Ali’s jumbled world and the desperate plight of Erica, who played such a key role in Normal. We’re introduced to lots of people and many of them are given key moments, making us care for them and fear for them. We’re shown that there is more evil in this world than just its serial killers. Erica’s experiences of life had begun to go wrong long before she caught the eye of this one particular monster.
I was engrossed by Dead Girls (what a fantastic title), reading it compulsively over just one day. These two books are so unusual. Ali Green is also hardly your typical detective. Rules here are thrown by the wayside as Ali’s thoughts jump from place to place and we scurry to keep up as things become increasingly terrifying and ever more bloody. Excellent!