Double Review - The List of Suspicious Things by Jennie Godfrey and Deadly Animals by Marie tierney

My reviews of two very different books with child protagonists who turn detective.

The List of Suspicious Things

Jennie Godfrey’s debut is a journey back into the strange, liminal spaces that fall between childhood and young adulthood. In those spaces, things that were once just part of the blurred background snap into clarity, often with a shock and a falling-away of a piece of innocence.

In the case of Miv, the young protagonist of The List of Suspicious Things, this journey to a greater understanding of the adult world is set against something very dark – the murders of thirteen women by the killer who came to be known as the Yorkshire Ripper. Miv sets out to unmask the murderer, in the hope of stopping her father from moving their fractured family away from Yorkshire, but, as she compiles her list of suspicious things, the secrets she uncovers are closer and more personal. As she pieces together the truth about those around her, she begins to understand that everyone is at the heart of their own story of love and loss and hurt and heartache and keeping going in the best way that they can.

It would have been very easy for the murders to overwhelm the story and turn it into something very bleak, but with most of the story filtered through Miv’s understanding, the focus stays firmly on the characters we meet. Their struggles – racism, abuse, bullying, isolation – are stories that could be found in any community in the seventies and eighties, and which are just as relevant today.

It’s a book with some dark and painful themes, but it’s ultimately a hopeful story, about the human capacity for love and change and healing. I’m not usually a fan of books that continue after the main events of the story are resolved, but in the case of The List of Suspicious Things, I could quite happily have stayed with the characters for another chapter or two as they built new lives in the aftermath of the culminating events of the book.

This is one of those rare books that has something for absolutely everyone.

Deadly Animals

I’ve been looking forward to this book since the Bonnier fiction showcase, where Marie Tierney and I both talked about our forthcoming books.

In an odd quirk of fate, Deadly Animals, with its 13 year-old protagonist, came out on the same day as The List of Suspicious Things, with its story of 12 year-old Miv. Ava, the protagonist of Deadly Animals, is much more worldly than Miv, living as she does with a mother who largely relies on her children for support and validation, rather than being the protective force that she should be. I really enjoyed the sense of a self-contained childhood world, with its own networks of knowledge, such as the likely locations of dens used by one of the young victims. To a great extent, the adults involved in the case were on the outside of things, unable to find a way into this world without guidance from someone who knew it well.

Ava herself is highly intelligent, with an intense interest in the way living things function – and how they die. We are our bones, she says to a detective she meets after stumbling across the first victim of the serial killer whose vicious crimes she sets out to solve. She is an outsider, but one capable of forming close attachments, and of maintaining her humanity in the face of adversity and ill-treatment. At the end of the book, there’s a sense that while the story of the murders is over, Ava’s real story is only just beginning.

Once again, I’ll definitely be picking up the author’s next book.