Following the direction taken by her last novel (The End of Everything, 2011, etc.), Edgar winner Abbott again delivers an unsettling look at the inner life of adolescent girls in the guise of a crime story.
The setting is an unnamed, frighteningly familiar town that could be found anywhere in contemporary America. Narrator Addy has been lifelong best friend to Beth, now the powerful captain of Sutton Grove High School’s cheerleading squad. The cheerleaders are popular mean girls, and Beth is the meanest and most popular. Then a new coach, young and pretty Colette French, arrives. She immediately asserts her authority, not only taking away the girls’ cell phones, but also announcing there will be no squad captain. A battle of wills ensues between Coach and Beth. Skilled at manipulation, Coach has the early upper hand. The girls respond to her tight discipline as well as to her perfect hair and her invitations to hang out at her carefully decorated house, where she lives with her workaholic husband and little girl. In particular, Coach befriends Addy, whose relationship with Beth has been strained since a dark episode at cheerleading camp the summer before. Addy tries to balance her increasingly divided loyalties but is gradually pulled into Coach’s orbit. Soon, Addy is spending more time at Coach’s house than anyone else. When Beth and Addy catch Coach having sex in the faculty lounge with a handsome National Guard recruiting officer assigned to the high school, Addy swears Beth to silence. But Beth’s simmering resentment and jealousy concerning Addy’s relationship with Coach have reached a boiling point by the time the officer turns up dead in his apartment. The whodunit aspect surrounding this death pales against the dark sexual and psychological currents that ripple among the girls (and Coach); the question of who is emotional victim versus who is predator becomes murkier and more disturbing than any detective puzzle.
Compelling, claustrophobic and slightly creepy in a can’t-put-it-down way.