Narrators: Kobna Holbrook-Smith // Louise Brealey
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.
Publisher: Celadon Books
Published: June 15th 2021
Murder, Blood Depictions, Child Abuse/Neglect, Depiction of Domestic Abuse, Grief, Death, Mention of Pregnancy Difficulties, Sexual Assault, Child Molestation/Rape, Mention of Suicide
There’s something about listening to a thriller that is strangely (and after some thought might be frightening)… soothing? Or, it could be the work of our narrators, who I think did a good job. Brealey managed to make each voice feel distinctive. And though Holbrook-Smith had a minor role/POV here, I liked his performance as well. He added a creepiness to the mysterious POV, of someone who’s had a horrid childhood and was slowly losing his sense of empathy, sympathy, basic human kindness. However, I will say the main character sounded a bit lifeless when dealing with some of the events in the book. Now, I don’t know if that was the narrator or just the way the character was written or maybe both in tangent… I’ll go deeper into it in the review.
“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
Little tiny disclaimer: When I had picked this read up, I had no idea that this was the same author that had written The Silent Patient until I had finished the book. Don’t know how that happened, but therefore this would be my introduction to his works. And as much as I enjoyed said listen, I do wish I would have started with that his first book.
In my journey to get more into thriller-esque media, I’m happy with this. I’m happy with what this gave, which was a quiet read with a twist that I did not see coming. The writing here was quite enjoyable. There was a sense of prose here that felt subtle while also matching the dialogue of the characters going about their days’. Granted, there were a few mentions of Greek plays and tragedy so… that could also rub off on the prose here.
And considering Mariana is from Greece, I do appreciate the many callbacks to Greek mythology and Persephone/Demeter and sacrifice and prophecies and how everything became full circle. In that aspect I thought it was clever and organic. It made sense why Mariana was paranoid with the mention of the goddesses considering an event that we learn of early on in the book.
As for the setting: the college, Greece, her pretty yellow home– everything sounded so picturesque and magical in a way— seeing as younger Mariana was a dreamer of sorts it was just very vivid and easy to imagine. Everything seemed to pop and I loved hearing where Mariana went to school and where she grew up and everything in between. However, I am a bit confused– I was expecting this book to put more of a focus on the professor and the secret society, but the way it’s done felt very… brushed over?
“Don’t glorify the events of your life and try to give them meaning. There is no meaning. Life means nothing. Death means nothing. But she didn’t always think that way.”
But Mariana as our main character… I liked her. I actually felt for her. Her grief from her husband’s death, the trauma she went through with her childhood, her actively working on herself with therapy, I really connected with her as a character, which is rare for me. Yet I can also admit that she was one of the luckiest, not-the-most-smart characters I’ve read in a while. The more I sit on things, the more said things didn’t connect. How freely she was to roam around crime scenes, harass a teacher and his students continuously, get caught in lies and still be able to continue her personal investigation… she just didn’t make the smartest decisions and didn’t react in ways that I’d expect people to react in said situations and I roll my eyes at how she’s able to come out scot-free.
As for every other character, they felt over exaggerated. Which in a way I can kind of understand– like I had briefly mentioned above, Mariana is a dreamer of sorts. She grew up on stories and fantasy. It wouldn’t be unrealistic to see that being in her head she would describe things in a fantastical way? But every other character here was just… I can’t say I connected to them.
Now that I think of it, there were a few characters that felt random for me. They looked like people meant to trick the audience into thinking they were the murderer, however and this may be my biggest issue… it felt lazy. It’s obvious characters A, B and C aren’t the culprits, no matter how many fake out and spotlights you put on them. It came to the point where I was just waiting on the reveal because it was very obvious that the author was trying to turn our focus somewhere else, but it was very ham-fisted in its execution.
There was also this very random and pointless love interest that again, made no sense in the story. He felt like a quirk– a younger man who’s a psychic that was supposed to help her with her investigation? But ultimately didn’t add much to the story? Maybe he was a way to show she’s moving on from the grief, except if that was the case that was done badly because throughout the entire book she was still very much so in grief up until the end. Their chemistry felt extremely forced and it was just very random. And I bet you’re wondering, if he was such a minute part of the story why’d does he get his own paragraph here? He annoyed me. A lot more than I was anticipating.
“That was the horror of it. We all secretly hope that tragedy will only ever happen to other people… sooner or later, it happens to you.”
The ending is something I have complex feelings on. On one hand I didn’t like the villain monologue we get. It again felt lazy in the sense of having the answer to the mystery no where near connected to all the hints and fake outs given to us. Because even now I have no IDEA how I would have even gathered that ending. I like my thrillers able to give me hints so that I might discover the mystery as well with the character however… one plus one did not equal two here. And it could be either because I’m not perceptive enough… or our main character isn’t. I’m not pointing any fingers here.
On the other hand, the reveal in itself is quite disturbing. Horribly so. It had actually made me sick to my stomach which again in and of itself is quite the feat. And though this ends openly, it ends hopefully and that was something I had to sit on considering at first the ending felt unsatisfactory. But it’s an ending full of healing and hope and progress. I appreciate the possibilities in this ending. And I’d like to think I’d recommend this one.