Benbrae, the dark family estate she left behind, calls Megan home after 5 years away when her sister lays dying. Her return brings secrets to the surface, but Megan has mental health issues and is also deaf, so she’s not sure that she can trust her own thoughts and memories and hearing. Why did her mother run away three years ago? What really happened at her sisters wedding? What does her father know but isn’t telling her? Is there a curse on the family that makes them go mad and kills them off one by one? Nothing is what it seems.
At it’s essence, the book is a two hander, with the voice shifting from Megan, our protagonist, to Carla, who was her best and only friend, but never accepted by the family. Carla is abrupt, wild and dark, and often a bit emotionless and callous. She seems to be using the family, but we also understand that she’s looking for a place she feels safe. Megan is her opposite, with her quiet, pliant nature and her shyness.
The title is a bit of a misnomer, I think. There’s a trend for putting the word “girls” in book titles, especially domestic thrillers. The cursed aspect is barely explored, but serves to hint to us that this is all meant as a Gothic story, with sisters wasting away, madness, and a big old house. But it’s not the girls who are meant to be cursed, it’s the Melvick family, male and female, so to speak. And Carla isn’t a Melvick at all.
Personally, I love a Gothic story, and this one pulls from books like My Sweet Audrina and Shirley Jackson for its tone, though it’s plot is very Agatha Christie. Megan has to remember things in order for us to find out what happened at Melissa’s wedding, and via that what happened to her mother and Carla. It’s a murder plot in a country estate. (Though unlike Christie, this author thinks all wealthy people are egotistical, unfeeling and inbred) I think this makes sense, since Caro Ramsay normally writes detective fiction in her Anderson and Costello series. It seems like a lot of detective writers like to make a foray into horror or Gothic fiction. Christie herself did, but more recent writers like Peter James have as well. The results are often not their best work.
This book really isn’t bad at all. If you like Gothic fiction or books with houses (you know who you are) then this is a fun read. The author creates atmosphere for us with ponds that eat people, beautiful paintings of dead relatives, dogs and rooks, sisters with troubled lives. It’s all kind of romantic and dark, which is good fun. The central mystery is fine. But the book is more of a good read than one that will really stay with you. Sometimes the book feels a little repetitive when Carla tells us something that Megan just did, or just repeats herself. It sometimes is used to slow down the story to make us more curious about the mystery but it isn’t always effective. The policeman investigating is badly written and his actions feel unrealistic, especially when out of nowhere we get a scene reminiscent of Poirot bringing everyone together to accuse them all. It’s drawn out and a bit silly. It also seems odd that the family doesn’t immediately call a lawyer, even when he is investigating while a funeral is going on, and even when in the past they have apparently tried to cover everything up. I also think this trope of domestic thrillers/mysteries with a protagonist who is a woman with a mental illness and therefore either can’t remember or is an unreliable narrator is overdone. It was kind of interesting here, don’t get me wrong, but it felt a bit derivative.
What I’m trying to say is that this is a good book and I liked it, I would even recommend it if you’re looking for something in this genre. It just has some flaws, so it suffers in comparison to some of the greats which it seems to take inspiration from.
Read It If: do you love big old houses, family secrets, long hallways lines with portraits, women slowly going mad, mysteries, and best friends who bring out the better side of each other? This one is for you.
Thank you PGC Books for the copy of this book for review. The Cursed Girls is out now.