Title: The Maidens
Author: Alex Michaelides
Publisher: MacMillan Audio
Published: 15 June 2021
Time: 9 hours and 19 minutes
I’m not one to give out one-star ratings. So for me to give a one-star rating, it would have to be pretty bad! The Maidens opens with Mariana Andros’s niece, Zoe, contacting her about the murder of her friend and a member of the secret society, The Maidens. Mariana, who was once a student at Cambridge, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. As the days pass, she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld? When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility and her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything – including her life (dramatic music plays).
This book was such a mess that I’m apologizing now if this review is all over the place. So, as stated above, Mariana is the main character; unfortunately, she’s annoying and lacks common sense. Part of this is that she is still in a fog of grief over her husband’s death; however, she still makes questionable choices. The novel’s main thrust is the idea that Edward Fosca is the murderer, which Mariana is wholly convinced of. The audience is supposed to think that Fosca is the murderer, but I was never thoroughly convinced. And I was right, as he isn’t the murderer. He’s portrayed as this typical academic, Byronic hero, but he’s just a creep who should not be teaching young women. One of the reasons that I never believed it was Fosca is the “evidence” that Mariana finds is flimsy at best. Yes, the victims were part of his Maidens group, but that’s not enough to convict him. The central piece of evidence that the police find is that he has an alibi. Granted, the alibi is provided by other women from the Maidens, so that does call it into question, but other than that, there isn’t anything linking these murders.
The other reason Mariana thinks he is the murderer is that all the victims get a postcard from the supposed murderer. The postcard has a Greek scene from mythology on it, and on the back is a line from a Greek tragedy in the original Greek, which Fosca teaches. All the lines are from texts he uses in this class. Again, though, this isn’t enough to convict him. With the internet, it’s pretty easy to find these things online, and it’s not a secret of what Fosca teaches. There wasn’t enough concrete evidence to convince me he was the murderer as I was reading. However, Fosca definitely creates a weird and creepy secret society. All of the students are young women who wear white flowy dresses. And it’s definitely strange how the rest of the college reacts to this. They don’t find an issue with him teaching exclusively to a group of twenty-something-year-olds behind closed doors with alcohol and drugs, and everyone is just, “oh well, this is how learning happens, and there’s going to be some boundary blurring.” I understand it’s Cambridge, but as someone who spends 90% of her time on a college campus, this isn’t accurate. At the end of the day, Edward Fosca is abusing his positing and taking advantage of these young women. Because in the end, the police find out that Fosca is sleeping with all the girls in his society and is fired. Shocking, I know! (This is sarcasm). The rest of the characters are just not developed enough. Actually, neither are Mariana and Edward, who are caricatures, while the others are just so flat that it doesn’t even matter who they are.
The novel’s plot felt more like a checklist of a typical murder mystery. Mariana decides to investigate after her mentor asks her to because she works with groups and went to Cambridge. Those are definitely weak reasons for someone to investigate a crime of this magnitude, and I want to know how this elderly professor can deputize a past student. What’s more frustrating is that Mariana doesn’t know how to investigate crimes. I understand that we’re supposed to think she’s this plucky, fierce, strong woman, but I kept getting frustrated because I could’ve done better. I cringed each time Mariana investigated or questioned people about the murder. She obviously has no idea what’s she doing, to the point where it is too unrealistic. She makes common mistakes in her questioning and collecting of evidence that she would have to be the only person in the world who’s never watched an episode of any crime/police show, which is difficult to believe. Also, the police have brought in their forensic psychologist, so they’re doing their job. But, again, I understand that we’re not supposed to like the forensic psychologist they brought him. Later on, when Mariana talks with another forensic psychologist, we see that he has an entirely opposite view of the crime. This is to show that Mariana is on the right track probably. But still, it’s shoehorning in something that doesn’t fit.
Along with shoehorning characters, there are too many red herrings. Yes, a red herring is supposed to distract the reader from who the real criminal is. Unfortunately, this author took it to the extreme by having everyone be a red herring so that the readers are confused by not only who the murderer is but who is who in the book. Seriously, the characters are so plain and flat that I had difficulty keeping them apart from each other. Then the two strong contenders for the murderer were dropped at the end of the book with no resolution of what happened to them.
I will say this upcoming part as vague as possible to avoid spoilers. Even with all the added characters, the ending was evident from a mile away. While I knew who, I didn’t know what the motivations were gonna be for the murderer. But the reveal of the motivations was a letdown and poorly done. The issues of rape and grooming weren’t even poorly handled by the author; they weren’t handled at all. The mishandling of the rape and grooming has definitely lowered the star rating. This novel was a mess from beginning to end.