I was really looking forward to reading Chris Whitaker’s second book, having enjoyed Tall Oaks, his debut, very much. This English author has chosen small town America as the setting for both of his crime novels, and his success in creating a convincing backdrop for a cast of fascinating characters has been reflected in the shortlisting of Tall Oaks for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award.
The action in All the Wicked Girls takes place in the fictional town of Grace, Alabama, in 1995, economically deprived and a prey to fears of Satanism, following the disappearance of several church-going girls from the surrounding area. When promising young musician, Summer Ryan, goes missing, her twin sister, rebellious bad girl Raine, is determined to find her, no matter what it takes.
Chris Whitaker again creates a really convincing small-town atmosphere, made more claustrophobic by the descent of a black storm cloud that covers Grace, with its edges precisely within the town limits. I felt this exact placing of the cloud detracted from the realistic setting though it added plenty of drama to the story.
The use of a southern accent in the narrative also tended to add to the sense of place, but while I got used to the rhythm of it quite quickly there were occasional passages where I felt it obscured the meaning, despite careful reading.
The plot was as clever and the characters as compelling as in Tall Oaks, though it took me longer warm to some of them this time round. Raine really stood out for me, tough and always ready with a put down remark, yet vulnerable and caring.
This was a dark and sometimes harrowing read but with some of the light relief that made Tall Oaks so enjoyable it seems like another winner.