Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike – particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.
Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.
Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?
When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything – including her own life.
I adored Alex Michaelides’ debut novel, The Silent Patient, and I have been eagerly awaiting the release of The Maidens since I first heard about it last year.
It follows Mariana – a group therapist who lives and works in London. She drops everything – including a particularly intense patient – to go to Cambridge following a distressed call from her niece, Zoe. Zoe’s best friend has disappeared, and the body of a young woman has been found. Their worst fears are confirmed, and Mariana is glad to be there to comfort her niece. Mariana soon becomes embroiled in the investigation, however, as she thinks that the police are ignoring a prime suspect to focus on an “easier” target despite the lack of evidence. It’s an interesting set up, and I was curious to see how it would play out. Mariana’s conviction as to who was guilty led me to believe that it couldn’t possibly be that person, and yet as the novel unfolds, her views certainly pass muster.
Mariana is an interesting character, and one who inspires sympathy. Her husband, Sebastian, died around a year ago leaving her utterly bereft. It’s clear that she hasn’t yet come to terms with the grief of losing him, and so her willingness to drop everything for Zoe is commendable. It’s not even a case of a welcome distraction – she and Sebastian met in Cambridge, and wherever she goes, she’s reminded of those happier times when they first met. I enjoyed seeing her backstory unfold as the novel progressed. She had a difficult relationship with her father, and that seems to be something else that she hasn’t yet come to terms with. She’s a strong, determined individual despite everything that she is dealing with, and I thought it admirable that she is willing – and able – to put aside her own turmoil for the sake of others, both in a personal and professional capacity.
Set in and around Cambridge University, the reader is given an insight into the rites and rituals surrounding this prestigious university. I do enjoy a campus setting, and I think that Michaelides brings it to life successfully in this novel. I also found it refreshing that the novel in set in Cambridge – most of the novels I read that are based upon university life in the UK seem to focus on Oxford, although maybe that’s just the books I read! I have to admit that I’ve never really seen the appeal of either, and so I do feel somewhat gleeful when some rottenness is exposed in either one of these institutions, even if it is purely fictional!
As the novel unfolds, Michaelides uses literary references to enhance the narrative. These are unusually varied, ranging from the likes of Euripides to Tennyson. I thought that this aspect of the novel was particularly well done. The references and their relevance are clear without requiring the reader to have prior knowledge – I know a little of Euripides but almost nothing of Tennyson but didn’t find myself floundering at all. And while the references are relevant to the plot, they are incorporated in such a way as to avoid taking over the narrative. It’s nicely balanced, and I enjoyed this aspect of the novel – particularly the references to Greek mythology which, as I’m sure you know by now, is a particular interest of mine.
The maidens of the title refers to an elite group of students, seemingly in thrall to Edward Fosca. They are a varied group, and yet they have certain traits in common – they are all intelligent, all beautiful, and all well-connected. They aren’t, however, as secret as the blurb would have you believe. Quite the opposite, when they turn up to Tara’s funeral as a group dressed in white. Tara – Zoe’s friend whose disappearance triggers the events that follow – was one of their number, and not the only one of the group who will suffer before the novel’s end. I thought that this brought the Greek mythological element to life brilliantly – there’s an echo of the classics in which those who suffer and / or are sacrificed are so often young women.
The Maidens is an intriguing thriller, and one that I enjoyed. I do think that the denouement came so far out of left field that there’s no way that the reader could have seen it coming, and I have to admit, I like to feel that I had a fighting chance of solving the mystery before the big reveal – something which didn’t seem possible here. That said, I did enjoy the novel overall, and I particularly enjoyed the cameo from Theo Faber! It won’t affect your enjoyment at all if you haven’t read Michaelides’ debut, but it’s a wonderful little Easter egg for those that have.
The Maidens was published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson in June, and is available now in hardback, eBook, and audio versions.