Mum laughed. “You wish it was more complicated than it is because you love secrets.”
“That’s not true.”
“Of course it is. You look for them everywhere.”
The best word I can use to sum up this amateur detective novel is "unsuccessful."
In order for a detective novel to feel realistic, there has to be an incentive, a remarkable motive that drives the would-be-detective (amateur or not) to seek the answer and to right a wrong. There was no purpose in this book's "mystery" than a girls' overactive imagination and overwhelming jump to conclusion for no reason at all. The mystery is put there in order to write a book, and because of that fact, the entire "investigation" felt overwhelmingly contrived.
Not only that, the characters are overwhelming tropes. There is not unbearable girl-hate in this book, but every single female character in this book (with the exception of the main character) is portrayed artificial, stupid, vain clones who are all stupidly boy-crazy, but it's ok if Jess likes a boy.
The main character is unconvincing, she is not the worst main character I've ever read, but something in the way the book is written makes me feel like her personality was made up as the book goes along. I didn't hate her, but she didn't feel like a consistent person. Not only that, she constantly blushes, flushes, burns. This book tries to sell her to me as a bad-ass, analytical investigator, and I just can't see Jess as the book meant her to be seen.
The investigation of the book is questionable. The main character (Jess) can only be described as "Too Stupid To Live." Jess' intelligence is highly questionable, her investigative methods are as subtle as Lady Gaga at a Mormon convention, and about as smart as putting your finger into an electric socket.
I’m going to persuade[the suspect] to meet me at the top of the cliffs. The shock of seeing me will scare [them] into telling me what [they] did. [They] confess, I go back to the police with proper evidence, justice is done.”
“That’s the plan?”
“Yep. Shakespeare had it first, but I think my version is better than his.”
I didn’t realize how stupid I’d been until it was far too late.
That sums up the book in a nutshell, but I should probably be a little more detailed than that.
Jess is spending the summer with her mum and cousins in Port Sentinel. This wouldn't be a bad thing, except her mother happens to mention the fact that she looks exactly like her cousin Freya, who is her age, who is her twin in appearance.
Freya, who was blonde, like me. Who had the same shape of face as me, the same pointed chin. The same slanting blue eyes. The same mouth. The same. Top to toe. The dead girl and I could have been twins.
The dead girl. Freya is dead. She died last summer, of an accident. Out of nowhere right after her mother mentioned Freya, Jess starts questioning her death for no reason at all.
“It was an accident, wasn’t it?”
“As far as I know.”
“Not suicide or something.”
Jess is absolutely fixated with Freya's death. She becomes convinced that Freya was murdered.
It really bothered me that no one could tell me what had happened. If I hadn’t looked like her, maybe I wouldn’t have cared so much. But the reactions I’d had from just about everyone— that mixture of guilt and fear— made me think that there was more to the story than the tragic-accident line Mum had taken
And naturally, the book is written to present to us the fact that Jess is right, but it does not convince me because there is no evidence other than the gut instinct about a girl Jess has never even met.
"I also have the feeling I’ve come in halfway through the story and I’m never going to catch up. And I want to know more about Freya.”
Jess starts seeing guilt everywhere. In people's nervousness.
I might have wondered what his problem was if he hadn’t been giving me the look I was starting to expect: shock mixed with suspicion. And what looked like—but surely couldn’t have been— fear...
She sees clues in the most minute of reactions. In people's eyes. In the way they react to her. How do you expect them to react, she's Freya's physical double!
Like it or not, Jess is going to spend the entire summer pursuing Freya's killer. Because she knows Freya was killed. If she's not careful (ha!) she might end up in a coffin herself.
“Hasn’t it occurred to you that if she was murdered, the person who did it might want you to stop dragging it all up again?” He looked back at me, his face grave. “Hasn’t it occurred to you they might be willing to kill again?”
Investigative Bullshittery: If you're a teenager, and you're new in town, and you're trying to dig up a potential killer, it's probably a wise idea not to be completely fucking obvious about it. You shouldn't do things like going around, asking everyone you know about Freya and her death, which you will loudly proclaim to everyone to be a murder, not an accident.
“If you hear everything, do you know who killed her?”
His jaw tightened. “It was an accident. She fell.”
“How do you know?”
I CAN'T UNDERSTAND WHY JESS KEEPS THINKING THAT FREYA IS MURDERED.
“You’ve got a bee in your bonnet about this and I can under stand why. It would be much more exciting if she’d been killed. But there was an inquest. The coroner was quite clear. It was an accident. Death by misadventure. And I told you to stay out of it, didn’t I?”
From the very beginning, from the moment she is in Port Sentinel, Jess feels like Freya is killed. I cannot understand her reasoning, and therefore I do not find the case convincing at all.
Stayin' Alive: I might have been more forgiving about Jess' unconvincing investigation if she hasn't been Too Stupid To Live throughout the entire fucking case. One moment of stupidity is fine. We're all human. I've done dumb shit myself, I understand, I can forgive that.
Repeated acts of stupidity is not ok. Jess constantly gets herself into dangerous situation, and she well knows that she's a fucking idiot. That's the thing, Jess REALIZES HER OWN STUPIDITY. In a life or death situation, she cannot help but shoot off her mouth to antagonize the person who is literally holding her inches from dropping into a cold, dark death.
My smart mouth was going to get me killed, I thought. Really, genuinely dead. I should be begging her to let go, pleading with her, groveling so she could see I was completely in her power, but something in me wouldn’t give in. Pride, probably. Which was stupid.
Her instincts warn her of danger. She ignores them.
I took a tiny breath, which was all I could manage. The old familiar jolt of fear kicked my heart into a canter. Oh, here we are. Danger again. I felt trapped and I was more worried about his intentions than I had been before he’d lied to me.
She takes stupid risks, she deliberately places herself in danger. She uses herself as bait, and she's so fucking shocked when shit comes back to bite her in the ass.
Then there was the little matter that going for a walk with him was the equivalent of painting a target between my shoulder blades and handing [her] a bow and arrow. So of course I nodded and let him put his arm around me.
And instincts? Life-preserving instints? Fight-or-flight gut reactions? There to be ignored.
As I started to turn away I half saw a figure in the back room, standing against the wall, watching me, and my heart took off at a gallop. There was that feeling again— pure fear, ballooning out of nowhere. I refused to acknowledge it.
This happens so many times. I admire her courage, but you need to stay alive in order to conduct an investigation. You need to use common sense and your intelligence. Jess does none of the above; she wins despite everything, and I cannot believe that.
The Girl Hate: Every single girl except for Freya's little sister are portrayed as mindless, boy-crazy bitches. The gaggle of girls in Port Sentinel? Capricious. Disloyal. "Bimbos." "Herd animals." Clones.
The rest were girls, clones of the one I’d encountered on Fore Street that morning, wearing tight clothes in ice-cream colors to show off their expensive-looking tans and impeccable figures.
Every single teenaged female is stupid, an idiot who needs a Jess in their life and school them on what counts as a "slutty" dress. Girls are to be belittled, because such a tiny thing as swimming can be interpreted by Jess as being too much for them.
I didn’t imagine she did much swimming. Too risky for her hair, for one thing.
Jess frequently criticizes revealing clothes, tans, beauty. But it's perfectly fine if Jess is naturally beautiful, with flawless, effortless hair.
Her jaw dropped as I rattled back down the stairs. “How did you have time to do your hair?”
“I didn’t really do anything to it.”
“You have magic hair.” She nodded wisely. “Many long for it. Few are gifted with it.”
“Oh, come off it.” I looked in the hall mirror. “It’s just hanging there.”
Jess is holier-than-thou. She reads books. She likes to remind us that she's cool, because she's, like, not into book tropes and all, and so not into romance.
I had lasted through four chapters of the witless romantic novel I’d found on a shelf before I gave up. Just because the hero was a ruggedly handsome cowboy I didn’t see why it gave him the right to be so rude all the time.
Jess makes superly grand speeches to the stupid, slutty, boy-obsessed (and of course, every single conversation between two girls in the book is about boys) bitch that romance isn't everything and she shouldn't be so dumb.
“You don’t know him. He’s not like that.”
“Really? Maybe you’re too close to see what he’s doing.” I took a step nearer her. “Let me tell you what I think. You spend your time with your friends talking about him and why he hasn’t called you today, or what his last text meant, or why he tweeted that thing about Rihanna’s latest video. If he mentions he likes you in pink, you go shopping and buy every shade from bubblegum through to fuchsia."
She totally schools the girls for obsessing about a boy! Only it's just fine if Jess obsessed about a boy herserlf.
He hadn’t come to see me. I stared at it for a long time, feeling miserable and pathetic in equal measure. What did it matter? So what if he’d decided he had better things to do than visit me? I had rationalized it to my own satisfaction: the near- miss kiss on the beach. He hadn’t meant anything serious by it and now he was scared I’d think he wanted to revisit the moment. Which I didn’t, obviously. I hadn’t even thought about it since. Not more than sixty times a minute, anyway.
Oh, the hypocrisy.
Skip this book. For a much more successful amateur detective novel, please read Prep School Confidential.
Quotes were taken from an uncorrected proof subject to change in the final edition.