I don't often write about the books I listen to on audio. I'm a very finicky listener as I've mentioned before, and I have a whole list of criteria that an audio book needs to meet before I know I'll be satisfied by my choice. Even then if the experience doesn't meet my very exacting standards I will abandon it without any qualms. If the story is good, but the reader isn't to my liking I know I can always pick up the actual book. I tend to listen to a lot of radio dramatizations to be on the safe side, which are fun and entertaining and usually don't require more than a couple of hours attention easily met by a week's (or less) worth of walks to and from the bus stop.
As for actual novels my listening experiences have been hit or miss. I think I can count on one hand (certainly less than two hands' worth in any case) the number of audio books I have listened to--glued to my headphones so to speak and loved the story, reader and overall experience. Now I can add Alex Marwood's The Wicked Girls to the list. The book recently won a 2014 Edgar Award for Best Paperback Original, so it was a coincidence that I happened to have loaded it onto my player several months back and had finally gotten around to listening to it (all 14 hours and 11 minutes). Listening to mysteries (the same is true for nonfiction--so many details!) can be an iffy prospect. If you get distracted (and I walk outside while listening) and miss some important clue, the story tends to lose some oomph.
Everything came together perfectly this time out. The story is utterly engaging. Marwood takes her time spinning out the story, but of course this is a suspenseful tale so once she has your attention (and she had mine pretty early on) she lets out a little line and then reels you in, then lets a little more line out and then reels in faster and faster until those last urgent moments of the story. And since this is audio the other part of the equation is how the reader presents the story. This is not a dramatization, so there are no bells and whistles, just the steady but very capable voice of Anna Bentinck reading the story which has a number of characters and narrators and each is carefully distinguished from the others. She was almost too good to be honest. There are one or two rather smarmy characters and whenever their thoughts took center stage I practically shuddered.
The Wicked Girls is all about perception and reality. It's a story filled with many shades of grey. It's about culpability and what it means to commit a crime that you don't intend to commit. A crime you don't even realize you are committing, because you are young and have had no guidance. You might be from a good family or one filled with problems. In either case there are no adults around to look after you properly. But are you responsible for your actions. You alone and no one else? There are always two sides to every story, though unless you are intimately involved you won't know all the sides. You only know what is presented to you, and what is filtered through the perceptions, beliefs and morals of others. The Wicked Girls gets intimately into the minds of two young girls who commit an unspeakable crime and must spend the rest of their lives living with their actions and trying to create some sort of decent life for themselves.
I won't go into too much detail about the story as part of what makes it so good is to let it spin itself out slowly. There are two parallel stories and while there is a mystery to it all, it's not what you think of as being a proper mystery. You know the crime and the culprits from the start. Marwood just fills in the details, which you know are coming but as you get to know the characters you are inwardly cringing for them wishing what happened, what is going to happen, will all turn out differently.
It's all neatly done. It does take some attention to line up each character from that one horrible day in 1986 when two eleven-year-old girls meet, who spend only a few hours together but whose lives will by the end be shattered and changed irrevocably, to twenty-five years later when a series of crimes takes place in a seaside town. Happy childhood memories of days spent on the beach and the piers next to Fun Land, hands sticky with cotton candy, take on a menacing and sinister tone as the author shares the seedy underside and strips bare the realities and hypocrisies of a small town and its narrow-minded residents.
I am never quite sure whether to add an audio book to my sidebar list of books read, but in this case I think it counts. The dilemma now is how to follow up such a good listening experience as this. I have quite a few unlistened to audio books ready to go, but for some reason the list is heavy on nonfiction, which I think I am not in the mood for (to listen to that is), as well as a classic. There are several partially listened to books that I think I won't go back to now as I didn't like the reader. I could pick another book read by Anna Bentinck. Most likely I will browse the new audio books lists for something that sounds good (literally and figuratively in this case). This is one of the rare instances where I do read the reviews and will be swayed by bad ones. Have you listened to anything especially good lately?