All The Dead Girls by Rita Herron

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All The Dead Girls is the latest novel by USA Today bestselling author Rita Herron and the third novel in her Graveyard Falls Series. It is, however, the first book I’ve read by this author. As usual, beware, potential spoilers ahead!

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Graveyard Falls is a small village under the watch of Sheriff Ian Kimball. The village has already been under terrible strain due to the previous serial killers located in the area. The remaining locals are trying to pull together the pieces of what’s left of the village when a terrible storm ravages the area, destroying much private property in its path and unearthing the bodies of several teenage girls. They are dressed in white gowns with strong religious symbolism surrounding them. Sheriff Ian Kimball is forced to call the FBI who brings a profiler and specialist in children’s disappearances, agent Beth Fields. When they meet, Kimball recognises agent Fields as she is not who she says she is. In fact, she is JJ Jones, his old schoolmate who had been kidnapped when she was fourteen and whose testimony had helped put his father in jail. What follows is a chase for the new serial killer, who was also JJ’s kidnapper, putting the village at risk in a race against time as he kidnaps two more young girls.

In the best tradition of who-done-it’s, Rita Herron sets a plot that keeps you turning page after page. As you encounter the diverse characters in the story, you form your own conclusions and you will soon find yourself with a few possible suspects. As a reader, I don’t usually make any effort to try and figure out who is the killer before the book tells me but the red herrings are so obviously there that it’s very difficult not to make a mental list of suspects.

Through the book there is a sense of danger in the isolation of the village and the area, with cabins and lodgings all over the mountain and people who might or might not live there. As the killer becomes aware that the one girl he let go is back to hunt him, you start fearing for her life too, as well as wonder why he let her go in the first place. Finally, there is the expected romance between Sheriff Kimball and Agent Fields, which is no surprise to anybody, because we all love a good bit of romance.

The thing is, I was disappointed. The story was a real page turner but the writing in this case wasn’t up to the standards of the plot. The prose felt choppy in the first few chapters. The pacing felt wrong to me, setting up the sexual tension between the two main characters way too early for it to feel believable, just as an example.

The characters themselves are flat. I couldn’t figure out what made them different than the rest. The narrator and Ian’s point of view keep telling us Beth is the strongest woman on Earth and yet she is depicted as constantly falling apart. I am not saying a strong person cannot be occasionally – or more than occasionally – vulnerable, but if as a writer you need to be telling us all the time she is strong it’s because you’re not showing us, losing a lot in characterisation. Ian seems to be constantly thinking or talking about how much she has suffered, often making me wonder whether he likes her out of pity. In any case, Beth could be anybody, other than being constantly on the verge of a nervous breakdown, the character lacks life. And the same goes, sadly, for every other character. The killer probably has a stronger voice than any of the others.

I really wanted to like it because the story was so promising. I had never read anything from this author before and, although the book is part of a trilogy, it stands alone, so I didn’t need to pause and read the other two before. Maybe it’s that I lack a taste of this author’s style but I feel this book needed much more work. The subject being gripping, the form needed much more love and care. I want to know who these people are. Telling me how Beth wears her hair doesn’t tell me enough about her for me to believe she is real, nor does it help that Ian is constantly there, physically propping her up, to know who he is. This book could have been an awesome read with a good polish to the prose and more insight into the characters.

All The Dead Girls will be available in paperback on the 22nd of November 2016.

You can check out more of Rita Herron’s books here.

Via Netgalley.

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