Book Review: A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, by Holly Jackson.

Sex, drugs and murder. Yes, Holly Jackson’s young adult 2019 novel A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder has all the ingredients required to grip the teen (and not so teenage) reader in her neatly plotted if unlikely story of nerdy sleuth Pip who is convinced schoolboy Sal did not murder his girlfriend and then commit suicide five years ago. It’s a difficult to put down whodunnit due to the breathless pace and end of chapter cliff hangers in a page turning part one of a trilogy. Although I’m not sure I’ll read Good Girl, Bad Blood, (2020) and Kill Joy, (2021) as after a blistering 300 pages of almost believable and taut fiction the highly implausible concluding chapters and in particular the dénouement undermined my enjoyment of Pip and Ravi’s slow unpicking of the clues of a murder mystery that rocked their village of Little Kilton five years ago when blonde bully and ‘it girl’ Andie disappeared and Ravi’s innocent brother and suspected murderer Sal killed himself.

Jackson uses Pip’s diary notes as an epistolary technique to get inside her head, her motivations and thoughts – while the main story is told in an omniscient narrative largely centred on Pip and of her quest for the truth about the teenage deaths. It allows us to see the world through Pip’s eyes and character and how she views her friends, acquaintances, teachers and family members including her mum, dad, younger brother and family pet dog Barney.

Seen through a female teenage lens this is a girl power novel that pitches the intelligence, integrity and honesty of Pip (with help from Ravi) against the dishonesty of compromised teenagers, drug dealers, racist adults in general and trusted teachers in particular. Leverage is a word used by Pip and it’s a technique she uses to get to the facts via blackmail, bluff and burglary – which all add to the drama. As in any good mysteries there are umpteen false leads, dead ends and attempts by the author to throw the reader off the path in the search for the real culprits. The ridiculously tabloid-esque local reporter, the clichéd incompetent local police, and an all too cosy Midsomer Murder type village where the residents seem to be a bit dense when it comes to asking questions about the murders are seemingly part of the genre that Agatha Christie would have approved of.

Squeaky clean, Pip is an A* level super bright student studying history and literature ahead of applying to Cambridge University but is not perhaps representative of most eighteen-year-olds. She drinks black tea, shuns alcohol, is the perfect sister to her younger brother (even accompanying him to his football practice) and has an ideal relationship with her parents. There’s no slamming of doors and screams of ‘you don’t understand me’. With her own car, own bedroom and an unlimited knowledge of all things high tech which help her sleuth-like activities she is not perhaps the average teenager being sans vices, sans sulks, sans moods and in particular sans interest in sex. But then we wouldn’t have our brave teen detective and highly principled heroine who is ruthless in her work and not afraid of confrontation when asking hard questions as her school project on how the media and police covered the deaths turns into a full on murder investigation.

Harry Mottram

Left to right: Emma Myers, Holly Jackson and Zain Iqbal

Axbridge News is edited by Harry Mottram and is published for the interest of himself and fellow residents.

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