The girl emerged from the woods, barely alive. Her story was beyond belief. But it was true. Every dreadful word of it. Days later, another desperate escapee is found – and a pattern is emerging. Pairs of victims are being abducted, imprisoned then faced with a terrible choice: kill or be killed. Would you rather lose your life or lose your mind? Detective Inspector Helen Grace has faced down her own demons on her rise to the top. As she leads the investigation to hunt down this unseen monster, she learns that it may be the survivors – living calling cards – who hold the key to the case. And unless she succeeds, more innocents will die . . .
CONTAINS SPOILERS– Already having been selected for Richard and Judy’s summer book club and attracting a great deal of attention from press reviews and crime bloggers alike, I rose above my normal resistance to heavily hyped books as debut novel, Eeny Meeny– the first of a projected series- really appealed to me.
Set in and around the city of Southampton, a typical inner city, Eeny Meeny quickly reveals itself as a serial killer thriller/police procedural. Revolving around a series of double kidnappings, where one captive is called upon to make a literally life or death decision, Eeny Meeny grabs you by the throat from the opening chapter, and ramps up the terror meter inch by inch as the book progresses. As each duo is imprisoned in increasingly dark and claustrophobic locales, their lives hinge on the moral dilemma presented to them. However, as a slight weakness in the plot, I felt that there could have been a more interesting moral struggle in their psyches, as to my mind with the dislikeability of some of the captives I found the decisions rather clear cut. Also it occurred to me that one means of despatch could have been used to despatch two at the same time, recalling the poisoned berries episode in The Hunger Games, and could have frustrated our evil kidnapper’s cunning plan.
Maybe I was just overthinking, and unfortunately to further mar my enjoyment I was constantly reminded of another crime book, which used an incredibly similar premise. Overall, however, there was enough gore and violence to sate my imagination with some terrific graphic scenes, but as I felt little or no empathy with the captives’ plight, I began to lose interest in them as people, and was much more interested in which gruesome manner they would eventually meet their maker. I also found the final double kidnapping a bit too well signposted, and the last victim’s fate woefully predictable, as it is a well-used tenet that any main protagonist struggling with their inability to form an emotional connection with anybody, does eventually mange to do so, but it all ends in tears. Also, when the identity of the kidnapper was revealed, I did chuckle to myself as I had, when not long into the book, said to a fellow reader, ‘Oh, does ___ have a ___ as this would be a blindingly obvious reason for these kidnappings?” Ho hum. So all in all, a good writing style in terms of atmosphere, location and tension, let down by an all too tenuous plot.
Having already been quite critical of the plot, I feel it would be unfair to lay into the characterisation too much, although personally I did find the main police protagonist, DI Helen Grace, a little strained. I think that the level of emotional damage that she encapsulated did feel a wee bit unbelievable, and following the well worn path of emotionally crippled detectives with addictive personalities I grew tired of her quite quickly. In my opinion, as the plot progresses it becomes abundantly clear (a) why she is like this (b) why she needs to be like this, to necessitate the outlandish plot arc and (c) her life is not going to get any better any time soon. I didn’t like her particularly, but by the same token, I didn’t enjoy not liking her, which you do sometimes get pleasure out of, with dislikeable characters. Her fellow police cohorts were neither here nor there, and I felt a compulsion on behalf of the author to tap into well-worn cliches in terms of their home lives and personal relationships. In such a competitive publishing market , I suppose there is much to be said for using the familiar and well-used tropes of a successful sub genre, so a clever move on the part of Arlidge, but there was a rigidness and, dare I say it, wooden feel to most of the characters.
Because I have a habit of not reviewing books as soon as I have read them, I do think long and hard as to how much I have enjoyed a book, and equally if I would recommend it to others. I can see that Eeny Meeny is a great choice for Richard and Judy, in much the same way as S.J. Watson’s Before I Go To Sleep, as I think it will divide reader’s opinions and certainly has many points both good and bad to discuss (as I have found out discussing with others who have read it). However, I was not entirely convinced by Eeny Meeny, so am afraid that it is not at the top of my list of recommends, despite what Dick and Jude say…
Read more reviews of Eeny Meeny at:
(With thanks to Penguin for the ARC)