Well this is definitely a book with a different premise to anything I’ve read before. Annie’s mother is a serial killer and after the last killing she decides to go to the police and tell all. To protect her Annie is given a new name, Millie Barnes and sent to live with foster parents Mike and Saskia and their own teenaged daughter Phoebe.
This is a book that drags you into the action straight away with much of Milie’s narrative addressed to her mother, the reader is given an insight into what may have happened before she arrived at her foster home, but for the most part nothing specific is actually expressed.
As well as being a foster father of many years, Mike is also a psychologist who works with Millie as she prepares for her mother’s trial as a key witness. Odd as it may seem the foster family have their own problems which are revealed to us through Millie’s eyes.
Millie has clearly been damaged by her upbringing, she has problems forming bonds, struggles to react appropriately and is essentially living a lie. Maybe a necessary one but beyond Mike and Saskia and her new headmistress, no-one knows the truth about why she is being fostered and her absences for preparation are papered over with more acceptable excuses. As I was reading this book, the idea that a young fifteen year old who has taken the huge step of revealing the horror that occurred behind closed doors is then left with limited people who understand something of what she’s going through, and what she’s preparing for. And then there is the fact that this is her mother, that bond is still there, not completely severed.
This was a masterful piece of writing and although Millie’s narrative felt a little disjointed at times as it reflected her disordered thoughts for me, that just added to the sense of horror which fortunately is solely down to the writing rather than graphic images of what happened which are mostly referred to but not expressly discussed. Ali Land does a fantastic job of adding the tension by interspersing memories with an every day life which is quite frankly anything but normal.
With the main protagonist being the daughter of a serial killer the theme is that of nature over nurture rears its head in the most twisted way – what happens if a child has both sides of the coin loaded against her – can Millie by having reported her mother escape the pattern that her early life has set in place – after all we can all imagine what her future holds if she isn’t able to pull free.
The characters are a mixed bunch although the cast is relatively small, which suited the style of book and of course Millie’s background. With Millie obviously and understandably disturbed, Saskia seemed off-the wall and Phoebe a nasty cow. Mike was kind but he appeared to be Millie’s entire support system and there were some indications that he wasn’t looking after her for entirely altruistic reasons. Plus how can a man working in mental health not see that his wife is in bad need of help?
I can’t say I enjoyed this book, because that is entirely the wrong word. I was unsettled by what I was reading, I was unnerved by many of the characters and I read the entire book with a never-ending feeling of dread – was it a good read? Yes, not only was it an inspired premise, this book also captured the way teenagers behave, understandably given her background working as a Child and Adolescent Mental Health Nurse she has created a true to life replicas in her younger characters. So in conclusion this book is set firmly on the pile of books I’m glad I’ve read, and in all honesty I don’t think I’ll be able to forget Millie’s sad tale for some time to come.
I’d like to thank the publishers Michael Joseph for my copy of Good Me, Bad Me which will be published next week. This review is my unbiased thanks to them.