Sunday, July 28, 2019

Book Review: "Girls Like Us" by Cristina Alger

What a pleasure it is to read a thriller that doesn't have an unreliable narrator, one which keeps you guessing about every single plot point because you don't know what is true and what is a figment of their imagination!

FBI agent Nell Flynn returns to her childhood home in Long Island's Suffolk County for the first time in 10 years when her father, Martin, a homicide detective, is killed in a motorcycle accident.

Nell and her father were never close, particularly after her mother was brutally murdered when Nell was seven. Even though she followed in Martin's footsteps and became a cop, their relationship was always a bit strained and never really went beyond the exchange of polite information and conversation.

"Dad had an unshakable, almost evangelical sense of right and wrong. But there were contradictions. He loathed drugs but felt comfortable pickling his liver in scotch....The criminals he most despised were abusers of women and children, but I once saw him strike my mother so hard across the face that a red outline of his hand was imprinted on her skin. Dad had his own code. I learned early not to second-guess it. At least, not out loud."

Returning home to Suffolk County awakens a lot of memories for Nell, and she's anxious simply to scatter Martin's ashes, get his house ready to sell, and never return again. But her father's partner, whom she knew from high school, asks for her help investigating the murder of a young woman whose body was found mutilated in a park. It seems this murder is connected to another murder uncovered about a month earlier, which means there very well could be a serial killer on the loose in Suffolk County.

It turns out that Martin was investigating the first murder when he died. While the police seem to have a suspect who looks good for both murders, or at least was involved somehow, they couldn't seem to make the charges stick the first time, but they hope to nail him this time. Nell, however, sees that there are definitive doubts about this man's guilt, yet the police don't seem interested in pursuing any other avenues in terms of a suspect.

The more Nell starts to dig into the lives of the two young women, the more she realizes that there is definitely a second suspect—her father. There are too many coincidences and too many connections. But could her father have been capable of murder? And if he murdered these two women, was he guilty of murdering her mother all those years ago? That question fills Nell with rage and sadness, especially because her seven-year-old self was her father's alibi.

As Nell conducts her own secret investigation, she discovers the murders were part of a much larger operation, involving allegations of police brutality, blackmail, corruption, and prostitution, involving people far beyond Suffolk County. It's easy for the police to write off the two young women as victims because they were undocumented and occasionally worked as escorts, but Nell is determined that their deaths not be in vain—but she doesn't realize what a hornet's nest she's stirred up.

Girls Like Us drew me in from the very first pages and didn't let go until the last. I read the book in one sitting, and stayed up late last night (or this morning, technically) to finish it. There certainly were a few twists I didn't see coming, one which confused me in the way it was initially presented and one which disappointed me a bit, but Cristina Alger didn't let up with the book's pacing until the very end.

Nell is a fantastic character and I wouldn't mind seeing her featured in another book. I've been a big fan of Alger's writing since her first book, and I love the way each book she has written is somewhat different. I had been waiting to read Girls Like Us for a while, and I'm so glad it was as good as I hoped it would be.

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