Yogi Berra famously said, “It ain’t over ’till it’s over.” In some novels, that’s simply not true. You can solve the mystery before you’re halfway through the book. Not so in Invisible Girl, where the twists and turns will have you guessing till the very end.
Seventeen year old Saffyre Maddox has been through a lot in her short life and she hasn’t always made the best decisions when it comes to dealing with her pain. Cutting definitely wasn’t a good choice and she has spent the past three years meeting with child psychologist Roan Fours in hopes of finding better ways to cope with her challenges. Saffyre shares a lot of emotional woes with Roan but she keeps the biggest thing a secret, slowly working towards giving voice to the awful experience she has never told anyone about. Before she can fully work up the courage to articulate what occurred, Roan tells Saffyre he thinks their work is done and they have nothing further to discuss. He ends their sessions, giving her a clean bill of health. Feeling abandoned and slightly betrayed, Saffyre begins to stalk Roan, learning where he lives, studying his family life, and watching what he does and who he sees in his off hours. Before long, Saffyre knows the Fours family and their neighbors better than they know themselves – and some of what she’s discovered frightens her.
Cate Fours had been excited to move to “the grand apartment in a grand house in Hampstead.” The rental is temporary, a place to stay while their home in Kilburn is repaired after being damaged by land subsidence, and the whole family had initially looked at the experience as an adventure. And it was convenient, close to her husband’s office and just a short walk away from the children’s’ school. The situation seemed ideal – at least at first. Recently, something about the quiet, elegant streets has felt wrong, the posh silence somehow more frightening than the hustle and bustle of their former neighborhood. When her teenage daughter Georgia becomes scared that someone is stalking her, mother and daughter immediately suspect the man in the flat across the street.
Owen Pick was returning home; following Georgia after they disembarked from the tube had nothing to do with a desire to be near her and everything to do with wanting to get back to his own house. It soon becomes apparent Georgia and her mother Cate believe he’s some sort of deviant, a stressor Owen definitely doesn’t need. He’s already been suspended from his position as a geography teacher after two of his students accused him of sexual misconduct, accusations which he strongly denies. The last thing he wants is the neighbors involving the police When Owen goes online to research how to deal with his employment situation, he finds himself inadvertently drawn to the incel – involuntary celibate – forums, where he discovers an entire world of men like himself, men who feel increasingly ostracized and abused in the “new feminist reality.”
Initially, the only thing our characters share is geography. Saffyre spends most of her time walking the streets between Roan’s office and his home and takes to sleeping in a building site across from his house. Cate is busy caring for her family, completely unaware of the teenager who is spying on them and privy to all their secrets. Secrets she herself is blissfully unaware of. Owen has no idea the pivotal role Saffyre will inadvertently play in his life and moves about his day oblivious to her.
But a series of sexual assaults start to occur in the area. Bizarre events which culminate with the disappearance of Saffyre, and Owen and Cate finding themselves shockingly ensnared in the police investigation which ensues.
To say this story is a slow burn is to almost exaggerate its glacial pace. The first chapters contain almost zero suspense and are instead devoted to building readers’ knowledge of who each of our three leads is. Cate is slightly paranoid; concern for Georgia’s safety, her son Josh’s quiet fragility and the fact that her husband might be having an affair are slowly eroding her sense of normalcy and calm. Cate’s desperate for everything to be all right but is increasingly certain that something odd is happening in her home and she’s terribly worried it has something to do with the assaults and Saffyre’s disappearance. Owen is angry; he feels like life has treated him unfairly and has always believed that his problems with women lie with them – their over-sensitivity, their unwillingness to overlook his awkwardness, their judgmentalism – and the incel culture gives him a place to release his anger and pain for all the ways the world has hurt him. But as Owen gains more intimate knowledge of the community, he slowly realizes how dangerous the people he has become involved with are. Saffyre is damaged; she seems to have no idea how peculiar her obsession with Roan is and also to have no understanding that stalking and spying on people are wrong. As the author slowly reveals the terrible experience from her past, we realize what is driving her and just how that entwines with her current reality.
Because the mystery doesn’t really coalesce until the halfway point, Invisible Girl essentially reads as two different stories. The first half is a general fiction novel describing the ups and downs of three denizens of Hampstead and how they are at crucial turning points in their lives. There is an underlying tension due to Saffyre’s spying and the author does a lovely job of turning an ordinary neighborhood into a chilling, atmospheric, eerie locale where ordinary people can face extraordinary dangers. But for the most part this section just involves a lot of mundane activity. The second half of the story is the thriller – Saffyre’s disappearance serves as a catalyst for Owen and Cate to realize that something was wrong in their lives long before a young girl went missing and the police came knocking at their doors. This part of the novel is intense and engrossing as we try to differentiate between the victims and villains and realize that everyone is possibly a little of each. The author does a great job of keeping us guessing regarding what actually occurred until the very end and also expertly brings her story to a surprising conclusion.
Most books have flaws, though, and this one has a couple which kept it from DIK status. I have already mentioned the rather slow start and would add that this tale has some rather unbelievable elements, especially in the last few pages. You won’t notice them while you’re racing to reach the conclusion, but once the story is finished you’ll start questioning certain factors in the resolution.
Like many suspense novels, this book deals with some disturbing subjects. The use of date rape drugs is mentioned, as well as sexual assaults on young girls, some in their teens and some even younger. A bit of physical violence takes place and non-consensual rape fantasies are mentioned. None of it is overtly graphic and none of it is glamorized or condoned in any way.
I thoroughly enjoyed the lovely prose, fascinating characters and convoluted situations in Invisible Girl. It’s too slow paced to be truly classified as a thriller but if you are looking for a character driven mystery with some surprising twists and turns, this may be the perfect book for you.
Buy it at: Amazon, Audible, or your local independent bookstore
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