Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham

Reviewed by Angela Marie

“Sucking hard on the filter, I hold the smoke inside my chest, picturing the toxic chemicals and black tar clogging my lungs, causing cancer or emphysema or rotting my teeth. A slow death, I know, but that’s life, isn’t it – a long, drawn-out suicide.”

Welcome to Langford Hall, a children’s home in Nottingham. A home to imprison the cutters, the anorexics, the sociopaths, the pyromaniacs, the narcissists. The children flip side of the coin to rosy-cheeked Jill or cheerful Jack.

You’ve just met Evie Cormac aka Angel Face, considering one of the four cigarettes per day that she is allowed, electronic tag dangling around her ankle. She is sharp, with a sophistication of language that juxtaposes her past. With time you’ll learn how and partially why her young life was distorted and her youth destroyed. Her life a bridge to those confronting and sickening news reports of children imprisoned and unable to seek contact with others and the outside world. With a twist. First, you’ll have to tread through the minefield of bullying, baiting, sniping and sarcasm as the teenage inmates dance their daily rituals and pick their sides. No one picks Evie. And that suits just fine. Evie has an outstanding talent that makes for an uncomfortable existence. Evie knows when someone is telling the truth. We’ll read how this works to both her advantage and her despair.

Michael Robotham frequently layers his characters both biographically and historically, giving them anchor points of credibility. Evie, of indeterminate age, is petitioning the court for release as an adult. Forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven is the expert called in to determine her readiness. Although Good Girl, Bad Girlis Cyrus’ first major outing, readers of Michael Robotham’s recent crime novels may recall his appearance in The Secrets She Keeps. Coincidentally, we learn that Cyrus studied under clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin. We said goodbye to Joe in The Other Wife.  Perhaps there is a glimmer of hope for Joe’s resurrection. 

Cyrus Haven himself is a tortured soul, deprived of family in a most horrific way. Experience has bestowed relatability to the wounded rather than judgement. He is the glue of the tale, simultaneously aiding in the investigation of the death of Jodie Sheehan, a teenage ice-skating champion. His brief moves between Evie, the malnourished waif found by a policewoman near a decomposed body, and Jodie, a golden girl discovered discarded beside a path, weighing up the circumstances and history of both. Jodie’s voice is now silenced but with Evie his steps beyond traditional boundaries may have dire consequences.

Good Girl, Bad Girl has elevations of hope and possibility and redemption, and an extreme sense of loyalty. This pushes against the undercurrent of crime begetting crime, but we cannot shake off the gritty shroud that envelops the tale. We cheer for the good guys, but the users, purveyors and recruiters will have their way. For a time.

Regarding Jodie’s death, Good Girl, Bad Girl is peppered with suspects displaying a slow reveal of character and motive. We know little will be as it seems. The characters, no matter their part, are complex as are we all. So who is the guilty party – parent, brother, coach, teacher, boyfriend, opportunist, competitor? The author liberally sprinkles the tale with red herrings and reactions that may cast doubt on innocence or guilt. Or makes us question what our response might be. Good Girl, Bad Girl is a great read for those who relish crime novels. And Michael Robotham allows the penny to clink, but keeps a few surprises up his sleeve. 

Good Girl, Bad Girl is prefaced by the tempter on the cover. “One needs saving. The other needs justice.” Perhaps we’ll work out which is which. Perhaps this won’t be an absolute. Who is the good girl? Who is the bad girl? Who needs saving most of all? Is good an absolute? Is bad an absolute?

Although this novel reads as a stand-alone, there appear to be numerous threads that may build into either a continuing or a retrospective tale or both. Who is Evie and why was she imprisoned? Can she outrun the pro forma of how she was moulded? What is normality and is this attainable? There are significant descriptions and actions that do not tally with the ending of the tale. A writer as meticulous as Michael Robotham would have purpose for these. 

At times it can be challenging to follow a storyline that has more than one narrator. Not so with Good Girl, Bad Girl. The device is simple and efficient. By italicising Evie’s narration, the reader is left in no doubt as to whether it is Evie or Cyrus speaking. An effective contribution to the pace and flow. Leave time to read this. You may not wish to put it down.

Michael Robotham is a highly-successful and acclaimed Australian author, appreciated by Stephen King and David Baldacci, amongst others. Not only have his sales reached into the multi-million level, he has also been awarded the highly-coveted Gold Dagger Award, bestowed by the UK’s Crime Writers’ Association. He has acknowledged that he, as a former investigative journalist, can gain inspiration from news items. As we know truth can be stranger than fiction. Let’s hope we find out more of the truth about Evie.

Good Girl, Bad Girl

(2019)

By Michael Robotham

Hachette

ISBN 978 0 7336 3805 3 

405 pp; $32.99 (ppb); $15.99 (eBook)

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