Tucked up on the ridged area between Lancashire and Yorkshire lies a bleak landscape known to a few hardy fell-runners, the hillwalkers who trudge the Pennine Way footpath and the sheep who inhabit the peaty moorland above the treeline. Motorists on the M62 who traverse it between Halifax and Rochdale remember that this has been serial killer territory; a perfect location for burying bodies. This area is familiar to writer Abigail Dean, who like me grew up in the Peak District, and is the one that she has fittingly chosen for the setting of her debut psychological thriller, Girl A.
Imagine, in this geographical setting, a family living in an isolated house beyond a village where bad things happen behind closed doors. So bad that a one child (Girl A) escapes and runs away to get help for her siblings. Understanding and picturing the environment compounds the sense of concern the reader feels for the Girl A and her brothers and sisters, knowing that any cries for help will be lost to the wind.
Akin to the most effective psychological on-screen dramas the violence suffered by the children is hinted at rather than described or portrayed in graphic detail, trusting our imaginations to be more than capable of filling in the blanks.
As versions of the narrative unfold through the voices of each of the seven children the reader gains a little more insight into the events of the past in a tantalisingly ‘drip drip’ vein. But it is the vague, sometimes confusing, sometimes ambiguous descriptions that add to the tension and the burning question of how the local community could have ignored the warning signs about the household for as long as it did?
The author has created an intricately woven story that flashes backwards and forwards between events of the past and now. Girl A is an intelligent, resilient, courageous person who invites empathy, but there is a steeliness to her that ought to be expected from a survivor. Understandably the relationships she has with her siblings are complex and the dynamics she has with them and other characters are intriguing. Throughout the book you are trying to work out exactly what horrors were experienced at that address and whether all the children were the victims of violence, or if some were actually facilitators or perhaps perpetrators…
If you like dark. If you like tense. If you like to be kept guessing you will love this book. Girl A is published by Harper Collins.