The Elephant Girl
I enjoy good romantic suspense of all flavors. Thrilling, action-packed books that keep me on the edge of my chair turning pages enjoy pride of place in my library, as do gothics which build their tension inch by chilling inch. What doesn’t work for me is total boredom. The Elephant Girl promised an unusual suspense story, but much of this meandering novel just bored me silly.
As a young child, Helen Stephens witnessed her mother’s murder. However, she remembers almost nothing of it and when her extended family opts to place her in foster care rather than raise her, Helen’s world basically crumbles apart. Now an adult, Helen lives overseas until news of her grandmother’s impending death and her own inheritance brings Helen reluctantly back to England. The woman convicted of killing Helen’s mother has also recently been released from prison and Helen dearly wants to track her down for reasons of her own.
The beginning of the book certainly sets the stage for all kinds of mysterious goings-on. Helen herself starts to question whether the “official” version of the murder is in fact what happened. And it’s more than obvious that Helen’s remaining family have some secrets of their own. The reaction of Helen’s grandmother to her homecoming is not exactly what one would expect from a woman who opted to push her into foster care rather then care for her, and the aunt Helen remembers as being kind to her meets her with an odd hostility and coldness. And then there’s the quest for the convicted murderer.
That’s where things in this story start to fall apart. Not surprisingly, the woman convicted of killing Helen’s mother lives in a halfway house. Helen manages to talk her way into residency in this same halfway house in a scene that absolutely strains credulity. Once in the halfway house, it all kind of meanders. On the one hand, the man running the home sees through Helen’s story but he’s intrigued by her so he keeps trying to figure her out. They also start a romance that at times feels a little thin and half-hearted.
Helen’s quest for her mother’s killer doesn’t ring all that true either. Sometimes it seems like Helen is tracking this woman down for revenge and at other times it seems like she wants information. And, frankly, Helen often doesn’t seem to know what she wants at times which means that readers get to see her dithering a lot. We learn at the opening of the book that Helen has epilepsy and in fact it was one of her seizures that contributed to her inability to recall much of her mother’s killing. Helen’s condition could have been explored in an interesting manner, but instead it just seems to be a convenient way to get her into and out of various fixes in the story.
In The Elephant Girl, the author obviously tries to craft a mystery more complex than many romantic suspense novels I’ve read. The unfortunate result leaves readers with a romance that often feels tepid and a plot that meanders instead of building tension. It’s the sort of book that sounds promising at first glance but about which many will stop caring once they’ve gotten midway through – if they make it that far. I really wanted to like this book, but in the end, it’s just too forgettable to recommend.