Reviewed by Beth Townsend
Good Girls Don’t Die is the first in a new crime series written by Isabelle Grey, known for her previous psychological thrillers Out of Sight and Bad Mother. Good Girls Don’t Die marks a change of direction for Grey from TV work to novels. Once I found out that she had worked with Jimmy McGovern on an episode of Accused, I was even more thrilled to get to grips with DS Grace Fisher and her first outing in the novel.
From the beginning it is clear that Grey has written for television as she balances the plot with characters who I simply had to know more about. The story follows DS Grace Fisher in her new role as part of the Essex Major Investigation Team, a demotion from her previous role as Detective Inspector with the Kent Police Force. Her arrival at Essex is fraught with worries about what her new colleagues may know of her past. But there is soon a serious case to get into and her fears about others’ perception of her and what they may or may not know fall into the background.
Polly Sinclair’s disappearance is the beginning of the case. A university student who was last seen drunk after an evening at the local Blue Bar, she now cannot be found. Fisher and her colleagues begin their search for Polly and her abductor, and within days a body is found – but it isn’t Polly. It is another girl from the university, Rachel Moston, and she has been posed grotesquely with her jacket for a pillow. This is the first point which seems to stick in Fisher’s head: there’s something odd about a killer who can pose someone so grotesquely, but at the last minute take the care and consideration to place a pillow beneath her head. Grey manages to pull out the smallest details and make them the most important, ensuring you simply cannot and will not stop reading. Like Polly, Rachel went missing after a night out drinking at the Blue Bar and it seems, at least at first, that things are sliding into place.
After the discovery of Rachel’s body the press get involved and this really ups the ante. Grey lines up the police and press in opposition, with Detective Superintendent Keith Stalgood and crime reporter Ivo Sweatman set up as adversaries. The clever inclusion of DS Fisher’s former friend Roxanne Carson as the local crime reporter adds a further complication to the story and the delicate and tense relationship between the press and the police plays out with real believability.
Leaving Kent under a shadow means Fisher has almost no one to count on, so finding an old friend in Roxanne puts her in a tricky position, wanting to spend time with her friend but also putting up the backs of her bosses as she does so. This comes back to haunt her throughout the novel, as worries about whether time spent relaxing with Roxanne has led her to leak information go as far as threats of disciplinary action. All of Fisher’s neuroses and worries are genuine, some linked back to her past and the reasons she had to leave Kent and some very much in the present, such as her worries about being the new girl who really has to ensure this first case is solved.
Within the first few chapters there are already two key suspects, one of whom is responsible for the utterance which becomes the title of the novel. Grey successfully builds the tension the police must feel when a killer is on the loose and shows how this desperation can lead to rash decisions, especially on the part of the senior management. Despite her personal tragedies, which I won’t share for fear of spoilers, Fisher is a character who is strong and resolute and doesn’t let her suspicions be forgotten. As the tension and pace builds so does Fisher’s clarity and as with many good crime novels, there’s a race to the end with the help of an unlikely supporter.
Underlying the main plot throughout the novel is the idea that ‘good girls don’t die’, the idea that, somehow, it is the actions of the victims that lead to their situation. One of the suspects in particular is virulent in his misogyny, and though the press choose to go with the angle that the police are at fault throughout the investigation, it could have been just as likely that they would have gone with the ‘drunk girl’ angle. It’s interesting to see that whilst this idea underlies the novel, Grey doesn’t make it the stand out point.
Good Girls Don’t Die is an excellent novel and a great introduction to Grace Fisher and her story. She makes a fantastic main character who draws you into her life, neuroses and all, and shows a strength of character which makes her particularly good at her job. Other reviews have said the novel seems made-for-TV and in many ways Grey does seem to have used her TV experience to write a successful crime novel and one which would be gripping if it did end up on our screens.
Isabelle Grey, Good Girls Don’t Die, (Quercus Books: London, 2014). 9781782067665, 441 pp., paperback.
Beth Townsend blogs at plasticrosaries.com.