Genre: mystery, crime
It has lots of trigger warnings, I would recommend to look them up before reading it.
Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek Tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.
Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.
Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?
When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.
two out of five stars
I didn’t expect just how much of the crime genre format this book would have, where it put upon itself certain boundraries like having to introduce all these very shady characters so that you hopefully will be guessing who, if more than one, is the real murderer. It seems like that choice also makes for most of the elements I dislike. For exmaple the protagonist Mariana has to tell you everything about herself and her grief over her dead husband upfront to make space for the plot and the other character introductions. Like my thoughts on the introduction already at 40 pages in was – You ever read a story that is so obviously written by a man, even if you have no single quote that bad to pull from?* Mariana was the ultimate psychotherapist dealing with grief and being stalked by her patient, but never seeming too scared or concerned. It was made worse when I looked up the author, who seemingly has also studied and worked within psychotherapy.
As the story continued I leaned more about it being a choice to make her so very stereotypical therapist, but there were certain spots where I wasn’t sure. The book always has the allure of gods and wherever they are real along for the ride, but it’s obvious the author doesn’t intend for it to be magical realism. But then it’s weird to bring in these people that can read others so well and how the therapist Mariana can «feel» a person’s anger like this:
“She felt a burning sensation in her stomach, a prickling in her skin – which she associated with anger.
But whose anger? Hers?
No – it was his.
His anger. Yes, she could feel it.”
Which doesn’t a good detective novel make, I would say, when there’s no clues to follow only the protagonist feeling other’s emotions. I think the character of Edward Fosca is the most well-done, when he is in focus or rather when Mariana here and there focuses on him as a suspect, yet we never get any reason behind his eccentric behaviour. He isn’t a difficult character to write, just make him a “The Secret History” professor mixed with a Hannibal poise and charm (even if seen through Mariana’s eyes) and make everyone constantly describe him as dazzling. He is the one that brings most of the good elements of Ancient Greek stories and this study group society of Maidens that is his special students who he controls, which also where the dark academia elements are. It’s obvious the author has studied at Cambridge, and so the setting in general and the lonely feeling it can be as a student is described well. So is the red tape you can get around if you know the right people, as is the basis of Mariana’s investigation as she’s not a detective. The twists were half-way obvious and half-way surprising, but it kind of ends on that note and nothing else that is out of bounds is ever explained. And in that way any depth Mariana might have given the other characters doesn’t linger, they don’t stand out on their own.
At a certain point, if you are to write a book which includes such truly gruesome acts as this did, it does the whole book a disservice to just throw it in as a reveal for the murderer and their backstory at the end. Also the young wealthy women of the Maidens have no reaction to when their classmates are being murdered, and whether they are next, and it’s never looked further into other than being pointed out and explained as a bad (maybe abusive is used? I don’t remember) group dynamic.
How did I feel reading this book: I read it quickly, but I was annoyed a lot of the time, some of the time I was impressed by the details and certain scenes, but it never lasted. I would not recommend this book and I now would say I disagree with the dark academia genre it has been thrown into as well. Murders happen in the “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt and others, but the whole focus is on the psychological obsessions and breakdowns in the group leading to it.
*About this obviously being written by a man; as I finished up the review it seems like a thing very many has picked up on. As this review from Natalie so perfectly puts it: “It is glaringly apparent Michaelides struggled to truly understand women and how they think and behave; their fears and motivators, and relegated them to orbiting around men and their influence.”