Girls Like Us
Girls Like Us is author Cristina Alger’s second novel, but it’s my first experience with her writing. She puts a fresh spin on the well-known serial killer trope, making this novel a pleasure to read instead of the slog it otherwise might have been. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy a good thriller centered around a serial killer every now and again, but it’s hard to make something so familiar feel new and interesting. I’m pleased to say that Ms. Alger is definitely up to the challenge.
It’s been ten years since FBI agent Nell Flynn has set foot on Long Island, a place that holds a ton of bad memories for her. It’s the place where her mother was murdered when Nell was only seven, and the place she and her father, homicide detective Martin Flynn, struggled to keep going afterwards. Nell left home as soon as she turned eighteen, keeping in touch sporadically with her father via email and phone calls. Now though, with Martin killed in a motorcycle accident, Nell must return to the island to settle his affairs.
Nell is beyond surprised when her father’s partner – detective Lee Davis – asks her to unofficially consult on an ongoing murder case, one her father had been working on before his death. Nell is a little reluctant to help out, fearing her superiors will frown on it, but she eventually agrees to take a quick look. Of course, that quick look turns into something more as Nell begins to delve into the mysterious deaths of two young women, both of whom worked as part of an elite escort service. The case brings up a lot of old memories for Nell, many of which harken back to the long ago night when her mother was killed. Soon, she finds herself doubting everyone with even the barest connection to the victims of what seems like a sadistic serial killer, and it’s not long before she begins to wonder if her mother might have been one of his earliest victims.
If you read the publisher synopsis for Girls Like Us, you’ll see that Nell starts to suspect that her father might have been involved in the killings, and in a way, this is true. However, it’s important for potential readers to know that this particular plot point doesn’t end up being as central to the overall story as that blurb would suggest. Nell does suspect her father, but she does so in a rather lackluster manner. I was never completely able to buy into her suspicions, mostly due to the lack of page time those suspicions actually get. This particular angle could have been explored so much more if the author had allowed Nell to really dig in and chase the answers to the many questions she had about her father’s past.
Fortunately, Ms. Alger developed all other aspects of the plot extremely well, making it possible for me to enjoy the story in spite of my above criticism. The mystery itself is anything but predictable. Certain things may have been a bit underdeveloped for my taste, but there were some twists I definitely did not see coming, and I flew through the book in order to learn how things would be resolved for Nell.
Speaking of Nell, she’s a complex character with a lot of emotional baggage that often gets in her way. She’s dedicated to her job, but doesn’t always exercise the best judgement. Even so, I found her super easy to relate to. She’s not the kind of heroine who makes the same mistakes over and over again. Instead, she learns from them, allowing them to shape her future actions in a positive rather than a negative manner.
I fell in love with the novel’s setting. I lived on Long Island for three years right after finishing graduate school, so this part of New York will always hold a special place in my heart. Ms. Alger brought it to life so vividly, describing highways, towns, and beaches I remember fondly. If you’ve never been to Long Island, trust me when I say that experiencing it through Nell’s lens really is the next best thing.
Girls Like Us has its problems, but it’s still a well-told story that will appeal to fans of dark plots and complicated characters. I plan to check out Ms. Alger’s first novel as well as keeping my eye out for her future books.