Review: Girl, 11 by Amy Suiter Clarke


Title: Girl, 11

Author: Amy Suiter Clarke

Published: 20th April 2021, HMH Books

Status: Read April 2021 courtesy HMH/Netgalley

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My Thoughts:

 

“The cases have gone cold. The perpetrators think they’re safe. But with your help, I’ll make sure that even though justice has been delayed, it will no longer be denied. I’m Elle Castillo, and this is Justice Delayed.”

A former children’s social worker, Elle Castillo now hosts a popular podcast focusing on cold cases involving missing or murdered children. After four successful seasons where Elle proved instrumental in solving several crimes, she has opted to take on her most challenging case – identifying the elusive ‘Countdown Killer’, responsible for the ritualistic abduction and deaths of at least nine women and girls, each a year younger than the other, before disappearing when his 11 year old quarry escaped.

Girl, 11 unfolds through transcripts of Elle’s podcast, and a third person narrative. It’s an effective presentation, because it allows Clarke to share details from multiple perspectives, and both the past and present, in an organic way. It also supports an immediacy that contributes to the momentum of the narrative and the build up of suspense.

Elle is a few episodes into her examination of TCK when she is contacted by a man claiming to have information and evidence that will expose the serial killer, but before they can meet, he is shot dead in his apartment. Shortly after an eleven year old girl is brazenly abducted, and as details emerge and suspects are discounted, Elle begins to suspect that the Countdown Killer has returned.

Clarke’s portrayal of Elle, as her crusade tips into obsession, is done well. While her drive to close the case is admirable, Elle can be quite alienating at times, especially as her decisions grow more reckless and it’s not clear if she’s motivated by altruistic or selfish reasons. It’s hinted at early on that Elle has a personal connection to the case, but when her secret is revealed, it invites both sympathy and pity, simultaneously weakening, and strengthening her credibility.

There’s also some interesting commentary on society’s obsession with serial killers and they way in which their victims are overshadowed, as well as how that interest may play into the behaviour of a budding, or active murderer, who craves similar notoriety.

The Countdown Killer is a chilling adversary, and I think Clarke crafts a clever game of cat and mouse. I had some inkling of what to expect as the story unfolded, and correctly guessed the two big reveals, but I was surprised by other twists. And as the stakes rose personally for Elle, the tension had me in its thrall.

An impressive debut novel, Girl, 11 is a gripping psychological thriller with a premise that I think will particularly appeal to the many fans of true crime podcasts.

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