Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Twisted Thread by Charlotte Bacon — 384 pgs

The Twisted ThreadAt Armitage, a high school for the extremely wealthy and privileged, a murder has just taken place. It seems that one of the most popular and influential students, Claire Harkness, has been found dead in her dormitory and there are no obvious suspects. But that’s not even the half of it, for when Claire’s body is discovered, it soon becomes apparent that she had given birth just a few days prior to the murder. In addition to having kept her pregnancy a secret in the close boarding school atmosphere, the baby that Claire delivered is missing as well. As students and faculty scramble about trying to tie up the loose ends, one of the interim teachers, Madeline Christopher, takes it upon herself to investigate the murder. But what she finds will take her into the dimensions of illicit relationships, secret societies and dangerous hazing that some students will do anything to keep under wraps. With the help of a handsome detective who also has had a tarnished history at Armitage, Madeline begins to realize that she may be in over her head and that the students of Armitage are hiding much more than anyone ever realized. Taut with psychological suspense, The Twisted Thread is a thrilling mystery with a shocking conclusion that will leave its readers chilled to the core.

While I typically don’t enjoy books of this genre, when I read the premise, I thought there might be something here that differed from most of today’s thriller/suspense novels. While I was right on some level, I was also a little less than enamored with the book as a whole. When sitting down to write this review, I realize that to fully do the book justice, I need to be able to parse and piece out the various layers and attributes of the story to fully get a grip on what I felt about the book.

One of the things I really liked about this book was that it gave a full picture of what life in a boarding school was like from the perspective of the teachers and faculty. The students’ experiences weren’t really at the center of the novel, but as I’m not a student anymore myself, I appreciated the look into the adult world of the boarding school and the way that rivalries and factions still existed among the adults, as they obviously did with the students. Madeline is very much on the outside of most of these groups as a teaching intern, and Bacon does a good job of creating tension in her character by showing her strong reactions to long-standing traditions and the exclusive behavior that goes hand in hand with this kind of atmosphere. Madeline is a unique character in that she stands outside the group, both with the teachers and students, and therefore has a curious mix of envy and repudiation for both the students and the other faculty. I liked her a lot, and felt that she was a very realistic and emotionally complex character who was curiously different than most of her colleagues.

The parts of the book I had the most problem with were the actual pieces and puzzles of the mystery itself. It just wasn’t as shocking or inventive as I thought it was going to be, and as such it was a touch disappointing. I felt like I had read this book before, and its bits and pieces could have been culled from various other books in this genre to form the story I read here. While I liked the backstory and plot developments that centered on the ancillary characters, the story of Claire’s death and her missing child just didn’t feel all that compelling. I can’t say I guessed the crucial plot points, but when I finally discovered them I wasn’t overly enthralled with the way the story came together. And this may be entirely my fault. I’ve been known to be quite picky when it comes to this genre, and sometimes I think I’m unreasonably so. Regardless of this fact, there just wasn’t enough gristle for me here to make it remarkable, though I did like other aspects of the book.

When you boil this book down to its most basic elements, I felt the more plebeian aspects of the story far outweighed the more mysterious aspects. I wanted to find out if Madeline would ever find a romantic partner. I wanted to know more about the detective and his life outside his job, and I wanted to find out more about the personal lives of the faculty and all the hidden fault lines regarding the social hierarchy at the school. Certain parts of the book felt underdeveloped to me as well, and I felt that the secret society plotline could have been more fully worked to a lot greater effect. As it was, I think I’ll be alone in the fact that I appreciated all the wrong things in this tale of murder and mayhem.

Though this wasn’t a great read for me, I fully expect that I may be in the minority here and that my overarching particularity might have ruined some of the magic that this book had to offer. It really wasn’t a bad little book, and I think that those readers of suspense and thrillers will have a much better time of it than I did. I think it would also appeal to those who like books about academia, and for those sections alone, the book was worth reading.


This book was provided as a complimentary review copy.

19 comments:

Aths said...

This one does sound like it has a lot of promise. I know what you mean by going into a book expecting it to be a lot different than it turned out. That usually happens to me with books of this particular genre. I love it when the mystery is really shocking, but at the same time, I want it to be probable too. Mostly, I end up warring between these two aspects.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Interesting review, although warning bells go off for me when I read a book in which it just happens that someone investigating something finds a "handsome" or "beautiful" assistant!

iwriteinbooks said...

Hmm, hard tell whether I'd like this or not. Great review, covering the good and the bad. I might give it a try but I'll consider myself warned. :O)

Amy said...

This book definitely sounds like it has some interesting points, too bad the mystery aspect wasn't better.

Sandy Nawrot said...

I think this is the trap of the current day thrillers...if they don't have gristle, or really amazing writing, we tend to have a let-down. It's pretty bad when a young girl has been murdered and you'd rather know about the teacher's love life!

Audra said...

I really love how you breakdown what did/didn't work for you in a book, like here -- it helps me get a v good sense what I might enjoy/dislike. I'm a wuss about scary things, so thrillers don't work for me -- but I do like the what-happened-after aspect to thrillers, so the plebian details engage me. (I think that's why I so liked Miss Timmins' School for Girls -- I liked the very human emphasis on what happened after Moira Prince was killed).

Zibilee said...

Sandy,
I know, isn't that terrible of me! I usually don't stray far into this genre, but can always be persuaded to try, because I have often discovered some real gems.

Suko said...

Wonderful, well-written review, Zibilee. The premise of this book sounds interesting.

bermudaonion said...

I find it rather sad that there are rivalries and factions among the faculty but suspect that goes on at every school. No wonder students act the way they do. This book sounds fascinating to me.

Jenny said...

:( Too bad it wasn't better, I love a book set at a boarding school. That sort of rarefied environment with people who have no natural affinity are just stuck together and nobody can get away -- mm, makes for excellent fiction.

Jenny said...

I think it sounds interesting for the academia part of it, but I definitely would be disappointed with the mystery part of it.

celawerdblog said...

I hate it when authors build up a large amount of suspense and then don't deliver. I have always thought that about the Harry Potter series. As much as I love those books, I was very disappointed when I found out why Voldemort really wanted to kill Harry. I was hoping for something a little more shocking.

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I was curious about this one. I do love stories with school settings, so I appreciated reading your thoughts. Hope to read this sometime (just not soon I suspect).

Darlene said...

This book appeals to me because of the boarding school aspect. I always like to read books centered around them. However yours isn't the first review of this book where the reader wasn't really impressed. That has made me hesitate to pick it up. Nice review though Heather even though the story was somewhat lacking.

nomadreader said...

While the premise of this one really appeals to me, I haven't read many positive reviews. I think you've convinced me this one isn't for me. Thanks.

TheBookGirl said...

I don't read alot in this genre, there has to be some "hook" other than the murder/mystery to capture my interest. The boarding school aspect interests me, like it did you, but I'm not sure it's enough to make me want to read this.
Thanks for the honest review, highlighting very specifically what you did and didn't like; that's so helpful :)

Jenners said...

I too would be drawn in by this premise. I can definitely see the attraction. But I know what you mean when a book just doesn't do it for you. I had that reaction recently. And you're right … it could be the genre.

Amy said...

This is the first I've heard of this book. I'm curious but I tend to expect a lot of the thrillers/detective fiction I read I think because I over did reading thrillers and mysteries and many of them eventually begin to resemble one another. I like the boarding school setting and it sounds as if we get to know Madeline which isn't always the case in thrillers but it sounds like many of the other characters, including the detective, aren't so well fleshed out. The lack of creativeness in the mystery and puzzle part of the book is disappointing to me, too. I still remember reading my favorite thrillers late into the night and feeling scared and creeped out because the story was so good it made my hair stand on end! It doesn't sounds like Bacon gives us that.
I might look this book up and check out some other reviews but I trust you and so I'm thinking this one isn't for me.
Your review ishonest, fair and top-notch. Thank you!

Geosi said...

Like Amy, my first time hearing about this book. Suddenly, I don't think this is for me.

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