Friday, September 28, 2018

Book Review: Watch the Girls

By Jami Deise

The words “noir” and “reality TV” aren’t terms that usually describe the same project, but they are accurate adjectives for Watch the Girls, a thriller credited to Jennifer Wolfe, which is an appropriate pen name for a writer who has YA projects under the name Jennifer Bosworth. Watch the Girls will appeal to readers who like their Karin Slaughter combined with David Lynch, with a dash of Ghost Hunters to shake things up.

The book’s hard-bitten detective is Liv (formerly Olivia) Hendricks, a former teen star ("The Hills Have PIs") who quit the business after a car accident left holes in her memory about how her younger sister Miranda vanished. Now in her 30s, the hard-drinking, sexually promiscuous Liv ekes out a living on reality TV, playing a version of Daphne on a Scooby-Doo inspired series while another younger sister, Gemma, shines in the spotlight. After a drunken interview goes viral, Liv gets fired, and fan support inspires to start her own, crowd-funded investigation series. She’s quickly hired by a reclusive director, who wants her to solve a series of disappearances in a town where his cult hit "The Girl and the Wolf" was filmed. Ironically, the director wanted a teenage Olivia to star in this film, but after her manager-mother turned it down, he went with his 18-year-old niece, who recently became one of the disappeared.

The thriller has many elements that seem as if they wouldn’t go well together – the noir type of storytelling, social media, the former child star protagonist, the small-town wooded setting, fan culture—but Wolfe merges them flawlessly. In scenes where Liv reads tweets directed to her in a creepy old cabin decked out in homage to the film, nothing seems out of place. There are references to Shirley Jackson, Grimm fairy tales, The Hills Have Eyes, and more. Liv is the first-person glue that holds everything together, and while she’s deeply damaged, she’s not as hard-bitten as a male protagonist might have been. Men in this role usually have the heartbreak of a single woman to blame for their drinking and cynicism; Liv has been let down by everyone important to her, especially her mother and surviving sister, Gemma, who used Liv’s tragedy to propel her own fame. Still, Liv is naïve enough to take everyone at face value—even strangers who contact her through Twitter—which is why she was unable to unmask the rather obvious villain.

Wolfe weaves together back story and present-day mystery so seamlessly that nothing that happens in the book is a coincidence—a rare feat, even in this genre. My only criticism is a personal one—some of the violence and sex were a bit too graphic for me, especially when the wolves come into play. But I tend to be more squeamish than the average thriller reader—I skim through Slaughter’s scenes of violence, and I never read past The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because of the graphic rape scenes in the first book of the series.

Although Wolfe resolves most of the plot threads in Watch the Girls, there are unsolved mysteries big enough that Wolfe may be planning a series around Liv, or at least a sequel. If she does, there should be a ready-made fan base waiting for it. They might even be wearing wolf masks.

Thanks to Grand Central Publishing for the book in exchange for an honest review.

No comments: