Mystery Thriller

The Maidens – Alex Michaelides

11 May 2021
The Maidens Book Cover The Maidens
Alex Michaelides
Orion Publishing
10 June 2021

St Christopher's College, Cambridge, is a closed world to most.

For Mariana Andros - a group therapist struggling through her private grief - it's where she met her late husband. For her niece, Zoe, it's the tragic scene of her best friend's murder.

As memory and mystery entangle Mariana, she finds a society full of secrets, which has been shocked to its core by the murder of one of its own.

Because behind its idyllic beauty is a web of jealousy and rage which emanates from an exclusive set of students known only as The Maidens. A group under the sinister influence of the enigmatic professor Edward Fosca.

A man who seems to know more than anyone about the murders - and the victims. And the man who will become the prime suspect in Mariana's investigation - an obsession which will unravel everything...

The Maidens is a story of love, and of grief - of what makes us who we are, and what makes us kill.

Mariana Andres receives a call from her distressed niece Zoe who is studying at Cambridge University. There has been a brutal murder and Zoe fears it is her friend Tara. Mariana travels to Cambridge as quickly as she can and becomes drawn into the dark orbit of Professor Edward Fosca who has a cult like coterie of followers known as The Maidens. Mariana is convinced of Fosca’s murderous guilt and her obsession to prove it leads her down an incredibly dangerous path.

Wow! I absolutely love this book from start to finish. I love the way the author writes, he is so talented as he effortlessly pulls you into the storytelling and keeps you immersed in it. I read this oblivious to everything around me, utterly transfixed! Mariana and Fosca as central characters are polar opposites and are inspired choices. She lives uneasily on the edge and for the last year has been ‘behind the veil’ in a grey world of the grief of widowhood while he is mesmerising, dazzling, extremely confident and resembling a twenty first century Byron. The settings and descriptions of Cambridge and Greece (Mariana is half Greek) are wonderful and make you feel as if you are there witnessing the dreadful unfolding events and absorbing the atmosphere of life at this prestigious university.

The plot is very clever and complex, unravelling like the Greek tragedies that are a constant through the narrative, indeed, Mariana feels she is cursed as in a Greek myth and is melancholic like Demeter. Of particular importance in the novel are Demeter and especially Persephone and it makes me want to read more Greek mythology. The Greek Gods element lends a very chilling atmosphere, you get ripples of unease, a paranoid sense of being watched and fears build as the ghosts of the past and present merge. All the essential ingredients of a Greek tragedy such as by Euripides are present in the plot as characters pit themselves against each other with revenge and retribution duly following and leading to the ultimate betrayal. The images of the Maidens is spine tingling as these very privileged young women are tangled in the seemingly glittering web of Fosca.

The use of Tennyson as a thread throughout is also clever as his grief for the loss of Hallam and the poetry he write ‘In Memoriam’ mirrors Mariana’s grief. The tension escalates and you realise that the killer is very clever but also theatrical and this is very chilling. As all the layers build you have red herrings and distractions and so I do not foresee the truth which causes the veils in front of Mariana’s eyes to fall spectacularly.

Overall, I strongly suspect this book will be one of my top picks of 2021 as it is just my kind of book.

With thanks to NetGalley and especially to Orion for the much appreciated arc in return for an honest review.

Peter Donnelly

Founder of The Reading Desk, supporting readers, authors, publishers and book industry. Top Reviewer on Amazon, Goodreads, and NetGalley

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