Book review: Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham
Good Girl, Bad Girl is a change of pace and slight shift in direction for Michael Robotham; the beginning of a new series with new characters. The main character providing the first-person perspective in this latest book is Cyrus Haven, a police psychologist, which might sound very much like Robotham's lead character Joe O'Loughlin at first. That looks like the author trying to find a new way of revisiting criminal psychology now that O'Loughlin's Parkinson's has become too severe for him to continue to be a viable operative (but what a run he's had), but it soon becomes clear there's another intriguing character here who changes the whole tone of the book and the idea of a new series quite considerably.
As far as determining who the good girl and bad girl of the title goes, there are indeed two young girls in the novel, but which one is good and which is bad could be subject to change. Initially we discover that popular and talented 15 year old Jodie Sheehan has been sexually assaulted and murdered after a bonfire night party in Nottingham. Her family, schoolfriends and teachers are shocked that such a thing could happen to Jodie, who was much loved in the community and destined for a career as a champion figure skater. It soon becomes clear however that Jodie had a few secrets that few knew about.
On the other side of the coin is Evie Cormac, a young woman currently residing in a secure children's care home. As she is believed to be turning 18, Cyrus has been called in to evaluate or give advice on whether she might be fit to return to society. Six years ago, Evie was discovered in a room in north London; she had clearly been abused and was found alone in the same house as Terry Boland, who had been tied to a chair, tortured killed and his body left to rot. Known as 'Angel Face' when she was discovered by the authorities, Evie's real identity, origins and even her true age remain unknown.
Cyrus's investigation into the with Jodie becomes the crime story that provides the main part of the thriller element of Good Girl, Bad Girl, and he finds he has an unusual assistant to help him when he surprisingly agrees to foster Evie until she proves herself to be capable of living independently. Aside from being able to gain the trust of Jodie's schoolfriends and turn up new information, Evie also has a unique gift - or curse - in that she is able to intuitively know when someone is lying or telling the truth. For a young girl in her situation, the truth can sometimes be as hard to take as knowing when someone is lying to you, but she trusts Cyrus.
The Jodie Sheehan situation - a young popular local girl who everyone knows who is raped and murdered and turns out to have a secret life - is somewhat reminiscent of Twin Peaks, or perhaps more accurately, Laura Palmer, since comparing something to Twin Peaks is suggesting a whole other world of strangeness. Although to be fair, between Cyrus and his connections to the police force and Evie and her gift, Good Girl, Bad Girl does get into the murky underworld like a Midlands version of Twin Peaks to some extent, with quite a few sleazy and characters and dubious local politicians around, and some of the details are quite disturbing.
It's Evie however who comes through as the central figure to follow through on Robotham's new series and she is likely to be a fascinating character. Robotham describes her "like a new species of human, raised in almost total annihilating self-hatred that has destroyed any self-regard she may once have had (…) her mental facilities telling her that she must hate the world, that she must smash it to pieces before it destroys her". This is why I like Robotham. His writing and development of characters is superb, and with Evie he has one who is a product of circumstances and a situation that has evolved an attitude that is becoming increasingly familiar in the world today. And when that becomes more prevalent, greater and worse crimes take place. Will the good girl or bad girl prevail?