The sort of undercover work the protagonist does in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is enough to make James Bond, Sherlock Holmes and even Hercule Poirot green with embarrassment at how many levels she is above their investigative skills, not the least of which is she’s still just a teenager, doing a case that paints a big target on her back.
Meet Pippa Fitz-Amobi, someone most refer to as Pip with the weird last name. She has a small few friends, Cara and Naomi and their off-putting boy-band friends who are boys, and has grown up in the town of Fairview, but that’s not an accurate name for the Singh family, in that they didn’t give a fair view to the now-deceased older brother Sal Singh. You see, the town is haunted by a murder from five years ago where Sal confessed to killing his girlfriend, popular prom queen Andie Bell. He confessed through a text after her disappearance and then wrapped a plastic bag around his own head and knocked himself out so he’d suffocate and die. And that’s just what happened. To this day, no one knows where her body is. She disappeared in the night.
But you see, Pip knew Sal. He was a babysitter and always treated her well. He also had a bright future ahead of him and those closest knew him as a completely gentle soul who could never have done what he did. Sal leaves behind a mother, father and little brother named Ravi, and they have been the targets of harassment and bitter looks every time they leave their home. Pip is assigned a capstone project. I had one of these in university, where someone does a giant research project. Pip’s plan is to do a look into the police’s reports of how and when the murder took place and interview the people who last saw Andie and Sal, who were closest to them, and anyone who may pop up. And here’s the thing. Pip’s life is devoted to her homework anyway. She is known as the kid who makes others cry in partner assignments because of how much work she does and expects others to also do. And being emotionally connected, she is not going to care about people saying she’s spending too much time on whatever big homework assignments she’s found herself in.
I’ve been eyeing this book and series for a little while now. This is a mystery novel with a very gripping concept for three reasons. 1) Teenagers aren’t normally taken seriously when they want a part in investigations, giving Pip lots of disadvantage compared to an officer or professional detective. 2) The plot has an edge of racism to it, commenting on how it’s so easy in high-up communities to blame a black or brown suspect and throw their lives away in the hope of a boogeyman verifying nothing is wrong with anyone else. 3) This is a mystery where the more Pip unearths, the more her life is in danger. If you were to pitch a book to me, saying it was a murder mystery with an immigrant family in despair and a young investigator being threatened for digging up dirt, I’d put it on my shelf in a heartbeat. And when I opened, it immediately went to the exact details of the murder and Pip started making phone calls.
Due to its devotion to cramming in the details right away, it’s not as easily digestible as a Karen M. McManus mystery, one of my favourite authors and a specializer in this genre. It also has an ending with a character facing consequences who didn’t deserve to. And I actually wasn’t sure if this would get a recommendation during the beginning for how it was piling on the interviews without Pip taking a break and getting something, for instance, at the local diner and relaxing. It was a little like a textbook of the Andie Bell murder case rather than a story alongside the one uncovering all these facts. But something it also does is give a focus on how this reopening into the case is affecting Ravi, someone who knows through logic and understanding of his brother that there’s no way he did what he did.
The list of suspects had piled up high and there were some who were given so much detail I knew they wouldn’t be the one. Holly Jackson must have had all of this thought through from the beginning. Even upon starting the book you’ll tell the author knows this town and event times and relationships like she really grew up there and interviewed the people she didn’t know.
Pip is an incredibly inspirational character. Pretty much no one would go as far as she did, especially considering she’s not getting paid, and schools are made to make material for kids she also has to focus on in the background. People should look to her and think about what it takes to accomplish some of their dreams, like work out every day for a month, or plan a personal business, or take courses required to qualify for a job. So it becomes an admirable book, and then it becomes a sweat-inducing book by the second half. I devoured the last half of the book in one day. I could smell the justice for the Singhs. Threats were also piling up and being acted upon, reminding us that when you get in a position of power, people will do whatever they can to destroy your life enough to convince you it’s your work and all you did that caused you to lose what you lost and it would be best not risking what you have left.
I loved the realization Pip makes with herself by the end; that the reason she’s so devoted to her homework assignments rather than actual hobbies like the rest of her friends is she doesn’t know who she is, and her insecurity makes her want to retreat into something that proves she’s somebody and can make it. I’m going to need a break from her detective work, but count me absolutely in for the next two Pippa Fitz-Amobi mysteries! A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder is an expertly-crafted mystery with an important message of not presuming guilt. If I am ever murdered, I call my family to look her up and have her take on the case.
If you like this, I’d try Karen M. McManus’ books, Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and the movie, the journalism movie Spotlight, and Instant Karma by Marissa Meyer
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