The French Girl
I had high expectations for Lexie Elliott’s The French Girl. It’s a British thriller about a group of long-time friends, each of whom is struggling to piece together the truth about a terrible tragedy that occurred ten years before. I love novels with characters who prove difficult to trust, so this one looked like just my kind of book, and, for the most part, it proved to be exactly what I was looking for.
Kate Channing has worked hard to put all the mistakes of her university days behind her. She’s struggling to start a business of her own, and there is absolutely no room for the ghosts of her past in the orderly life she’s created for herself. Unfortunately, some secrets refuse to remain buried, and a phone call from a friend she hasn’t heard from in years forces Kate to relive the events she’s sworn to forget.
Ten years earlier, Kate and five of her friends spent a week in the south of France, exactly the vacation six hard-working university students needed before diving back into the rigors of student life. True, the six of them didn’t always get along. Loyalties constantly shifted, and there were a few times during the trip when Kate regretted agreeing to go. And then, Severine, the beautiful girl next door arrived on the scene, and everything became even more complicated. By the time Kate and her friends leave to go back to university, Severine is dead, and no one is confessing to the crime.
Kate is stunned when Tom, one of the men who was also on the trip, calls to tell her that Severine’s body has been found at the bottom of a well near the house they rented all those years ago, and tells her that a police officer is coming to England for the express purpose of interviewing their entire group. Kate knows she has nothing to hide, but what about the rest of her friends? Could one of them have really pushed Severine to her death and successfully covered up the crime for the past ten years? The idea sounds ludicrous, and yet Kate can’t quite manage to totally dismiss it. How much does she really know about the people she hung out with back then, and how far will the guilty party go to keep his or her part in the crime hidden?
As the investigation into Severine’s death is reopened, tensions around Kate and her companions rise to a fever pitch, and it soon becomes obvious that someone is trying hard to frame Kate for Severine’s murder, a fact Kate has a hard time believing at first. But as evidence begins to pile up against her, Kate is forced to re-examine everything she thinks she knows about herself and those who seem intent on bringing her down.
The French Girl is a difficult book to review without giving too much away. It’s fast-paced with a few really great twists thrown in. The characters are very complicated, and I found most of them difficult to warm up to for various reasons. Even Kate, the person we’re supposed to be cheering on, has quite a few characteristics that rubbed me the wrong way, but Ms. Elliott does a great job of making everyone feel very real. Their flaws made me see them as actual human beings, rather than two-dimensional beings on the page. Sure, I would have preferred they not be quite so morally questionable, but one can’t have everything, I suppose.
I expected the author to rely heavily on flashbacks to better illuminate the events that took place in France, but she actually uses them very little. We see both the past and the present exclusively through Kate’s lens, and I was surprised by just how well this worked. Kate’s memories of the night Severine was killed are pretty murky, so the reader is never quite sure how reliable her version of events actually is.
A few things about the big reveal feel a little forced however, almost as though the author is trying too hard to line things up a certain way and had to make a few questionable decisions in order to make things happen the way she wanted them to. It’s hard to say more without spoiling things, but it did put a bit of a damper on my overall enjoyment of the novel. Even so, The French Girl is a book I’m happy to recommend to fans of thrillers involving groups of friends who keep deadly secrets from one another.