I was excited about this book because there are two things I’m always eager to do: read books that take place in my home state of Maine and watch movies starring my former classmate, Anna Kendrick.
Anna did not make an appearance in this book but this story did take place in Vinalhaven, Maine, a small island town in the Gulf of Maine, not far from the town of Rockport. I actually used to live in this area of Maine for a few years, so I was particularly anxious to see how Dea portrayed my little corner of the world.
The end result was something I have mixed feelings about. But, before I get into the gritty details, let’s take a look at what the story was about.
Next Girl to Die follows the story of Claire Calderwood, a Detroit detective who returns home to Vinalhaven in order to help solve the murder of a young girl who was killed in a way almost identical to her sister several years prior.
The story pivots around Claire and her relationships with the people of her former hometown and the tensions of trying to solve a murder while balancing small-town politics.
As I mentioned, this was a story I was excited to dig into. Overall, the story isn’t bad. I wouldn’t classify it as a typical murder mystery story – one filled with a whole bunch of “who done it” twists and turns, but rather one of self-reflection and overcoming your inner demons spawned from years of repressing dark secrets.
From an overall story perspective, I think Dea has created an interesting cast of characters who work well throughout the story to create a cohesive arc. However, as someone who was born and raised in Maine and has spent a lot of time on coastal and island towns, there were a lot of moments in the story that made me scratch my head.
To be clear, most of these moments were not major errors which disrupted the flow of the story – and could be easily overlooked with some suspense of disbelief – but rather details which lend credence to the idea that perhaps not enough research was done. Here are a few:
Maine’s crime rate
In the story, the Maine crime lab seems to be consistently backlogged with work and its employees are running on fumes whenever Claire visits to get information about her case.
This certainly makes for some compelling drama, but the problem I see with this is that Maine has been ranked number 1 in the nation for public safety for about as long as I can remember. If the crime lab is backlogged, it’s because of drug overdoses or snowmobile accidents, both of which would most likely be put on the back burner for a criminal investigation.
Bodies stuffed in crab pots
*Minor spoiler alert* Claire and her team, at the direction of the killer, find a body in a crab pot offshore. This is an interesting twist in the story but it made me wonder: Why a crab pot? Yes, you can catch crab in Maine but you’re far more likely to find lobstermen and lobster traps than crabbers and crab pots off the coast – and it would have to be a really small body to fit in a lobster trap.
Bangor area code
At one point in the story, Claire picks up her phone and sees a call coming in and knows who it is because it’s coming from a Bangor area code. That would make a lot of sense to someone outside of Maine. Unfortunately, the state only has one area code so it doesn’t matter if the call is coming from Portland or Fort Kent, it would be the same area code.
Okay, so I’ve already admitted these things can easily be overlooked with some suspension of disbelief and if these little details were the only issues I had with the story, I would’ve easily given it a five-star review. However, there were a couple other issues I had that I had a more difficult time looking past.
For the most part, Dea’s writing style is good. Her thoughts and sentences flow really well from the page, but I found that she has a habit of constantly repeating her character’s no-physical actions. For example, Claire is always pushing thoughts out of her head to focus on her task at hand.
I understand she is trying to concentrate on what matters, but as a reader, being told over and over again that she is putting her thoughts aside became laborious and made some otherwise good prose difficult to read.
Her relationship with Noah
I don’t know if Dea was going for an “enemies to lovers” trope here, but I felt the abrupt change in her demeanor toward Noah before and after he was assigned to help with the case was jarring. I think either some indication she was attracted to him prior to that moment in the book or some more outwardly distrust in him after the fact would’ve helped warrant the change.
Instead, we get a Claire who hates journalists and wants nothing to do with Noah during the first half of the story and a swooning Claire who is fighting back the urge to jump his bones in the second half without so much of an interlude.
The lack of suspects
Okay, so I know this story was supposed to center around a mystery that was difficult to crack, but one of the things I love about murder mystery novels is trying to guess who the murderer is and the anticipation of waiting to find out if you were right. This story, in contrast, had a noticeable lack of suspects for the genre.
Earlier, I mentioned how this wasn’t your typical murder mystery, which is great, but I don’t think we got a viable name for a potential suspect until about halfway through the book. I don’t think this would’ve been an issue except it really slowed down the plot; I felt like Claire wasn’t really doing any detective work the whole time – which, ironically, some of the characters call her out for.
The flip side
I know I tend to get long-winded about things I think could be improved in books and this story was no exception. I hope, if you’ve made it this far down the review, you don’t get the impression that I thought this story was bad because I don’t. Yes, this story is far from perfect but there is a lot to celebrate about this story as well.
Claire is an interesting, dynamic character
If you can get beyond the fact she is constantly repeating herself during her inner monologue, Claire is actually a really interesting character. After the death of her sister, Claire is burdened with secrets and questions. Dea does a great job throughout the book dipping back into Claire’s past to drudge up new bits of evidence toward piecing together her complex relationship with Rachel, her family, and the rest of the island.
Small town living
Living in a small town in Maine has its fair share of quirks. Living in a small town on a Maine island is a whole other level of quirkiness. Although I know Dea has never been to the real Vinalhaven, she did do a good job capturing some of the nuances associated with living in a small town.
Next Girl to Die has the potential for being a really good story and I think Dea has a bright future ahead of her in the literary world. Although I had some issues with her writing style in this book, she clearly understands the foundation for good storytelling. The next book in her series is Beneath the Ashes, which I will probably pick up at some point but I’m not in a rush.
Want to read Next Girl to Die for yourself? Get your copy here.