For those who enjoy a well-structured suspense novel, Mary Kubica’s The Good Girl will surely captivate. The structure of this story is one of its most admirable qualities. The characters also are compelling and seemingly full of good intentions. Yet as the story progresses, the reader comes to find that even the most well-intentioned characters have deep, complicated secrets, which are bound to erupt. Kubica’s debut novel has been compared to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there are indeed similarities, but take note: Despite the best attempts to predict how this book will unfold, The Good Girl has commendable, unexpected twists and an ending that stands very much on its own.
The book opens in Eve Dennett’s perspective. Eve is the mother of Mia Dennett, who goes missing within the first few of pages. The story could become a simple suspense novel that purely covers the search and mystery of where Mia is and whether she is alive, but it doesn’t. Instead, the reader is thrust forward in time in the third chapter to find that Mia is alive and has survived an ordeal that has traumatized her and distorted her memory of who she is and of the recent past. Subsequent chapters alternate between the points of view of the mother Eve, the determined detective Gabe Hoffman, and the man responsible for Mia’s disappearance, Colin Thatcher.
The chapters also alternate in time. Kubica, a local author living outside of Chicago, has organized her novel by point of view and whether the story being told is “before” or “after” an event, and the reader begins to wonder what the before and after revolves around. Mia’s escape? Mia’s rescue? Or is it something much heavier and more complicated? This complex structure throws off any expectations the reader might have had at the beginning of the book, and it increases the tension as the story tumbles toward its inevitable climax.
Much of The Good Girl is set in Chicago, and Kubica takes advantage of the city’s corruption, politics, and landscape to add details and provide context. Chicagoans will recognize the roads, neighborhoods, and the (slightly overly romantic) view of the L used in the book. Kubica writes, “You can hardly get around Chicago without riding the ‘L,’ the city’s rapid transit system. She says that she rides the Red Line most of the time, flying under the city as if all that commotion above ground doesn’t exist.”
The fact that Mia’s father, Judge James Dennett, is well known in Chicago makes Mia’s disappearance much more dramatic and risky for how the public views him and his family. Relationships are well tangled in this story. The detective discovers that the Dennetts are a dysfunctional family, but what family isn’t dysfunctional? There’s a favorite daughter, a rebellious daughter, an emotionally sensitive mother, and a stubborn, career-driven father. This is a nuclear family that will be familiar to many readers. The characters might behave a little predictably at times, but they also can make surprising choices. These choices create the delicious tension suspense novels have and suspense readers crave.
Because much of the novel is set during the fall and winter, bring this novel to the beach during these waning days summer, for there are many moments throughout the book that will make the reader glad to be in the warm sun. This is an interesting, quick-moving novel that is sure to be an addictive page-turner for those who enjoy more than a spoonful of mystery, high emotion, and suspense. For those who loved Gone Girl, this is a book that should be put on the to-read list, but don’t let the whispers and comparisons misguide you: The Good Girl has its own personality—an emotionally striking and surprising personality—and should be read with that in mind.
August 2014, Harlequin/MIRA
$24.95, hardcover, 352 pages
—Reviewed by Lyndsie Manusos