this book is a perfectly good bit of entertainment, if you can disarm your logic and incredulity buttons.
it’s about phoebe hall; a newly single and disgraced celebrity biographer, who has fled the glamor of new york, world travel, and talk show appearances after a plagiarism scandal to teach writing at a private college in a tiny town in pennsylvania. glenda johns, one of her oldest friends from her own boarding school days, is the president of the college, and when a girl is found murrrrrderrrred, she asks phoebe to quietly investigate the rumors of a secret society of girls known only as “the sixes” to determine if there is a connection. phoebe is reluctant, because she herself had been victimized by a similar group of girls in her youth, but since researching celebrity dirt is pretty much the same thing as solving violent crimes, she agrees.
here’s the thing—just as celebrities don’t like it when you spill the secrets from what little they have of private lives, post-adolescent girls do not like having light shed on their own less-than-ladylike behavior. as her investigation progresses, phoebe becomes the target of several invasive scare tactics—break-ins where increasingly-creepy things are left behind for her to find, harrowing adventures in the dark, and then—more murrrrrderrrrr. but phoebe is plucky, and she will not quit the hunt just because View Spoiler »half-frozen rats spring out at her face from her freezer « Hide Spoiler.
oh, and is there a love interest? is he dreamy with a dark past, a psychology degree, and a habit of doing all sorts of suspicious things in her presence?? check and check.
and why does the feminist studies teacher seem to dislike her so much?
and why does the dean of students keep throwing wrenches into her investigation?
and why is glenda’s husband acting so shady?
and what about all the other students who drowned or near-drowned or went missing in the past?
and what’s with the campus police?
and what’s up with the townie bar that seems to have been the “victim last seen at” point in so many cases?
and why is that new york post reporter sniffing around?
and why are all the boys at the school so dumb?
and how have the sixes been able to operate in secrecy for so long when some of their rituals are kind of high-profile? View Spoiler »i mean, really—if there were more than forty members this one year alone, wouldn’t they have run out of “important” people to seduce and destroy? and if this had been going on for as long as it had, would none of it have come out before?? it’s a small town, but in the cloistered world of academia, there would have been rumor mills a-chugging. « Hide Spoiler
red herrings abound.
there are a lot of things that usually drive me mad, but they are pretty minor incidents. View Spoiler »it’s weird that a first fight, albeit one with serious accusations, translates into a breakup and communication blackout between two adults, especially when one ends up in the hospital right after that. it defies normal human behavior that duncan would call glenda and say “yeah, we’re not together anymore, but how is she? tell her i asked about her but nooooo i can’t contact her now or for a long time after this because—WEIRD!” that’s just one of my personal bugbears, and it’s one of those things so common in books and so completely removed from the way people actually behave. someone with whom you have been having the intercourse a couple of days ago ends up in the hospital, you call. a case with which you have both been preoccupied comes to a close, you call. i don’t care who accused whom of what. « Hide Spoiler again—this is just something that bugs me, and it’s not a huge part of the story, but it speaks to a certain kind of writerly laziness. tana french wouldn’t go there.
now, i have this on my “books claiming to be just like secret history” shelf, but this book doesn’t actually make that claim. and it’s not ultimately anything like secret history except that it involves a ritualistic secret society in an academic environment and there is a murder. which is enough for it to go on the shelf, but it is not at all a readalike.
it’s a diversion-read—it holds the interest and it only takes a couple of hours to read, so it’s a good vacation, beach, airplane, or wine-bath book. they can’t all be life-changers.