Lucy English

Girl Ghosted

"...the humour English works into her narrative gives light and shade to the novel. "


Penny Wade is a social worker who has become an 'accidental sleuth'. She is trying to re-establish herself professionally, having left her job after becoming 'over-involved' in a case. She has to contend with wary colleagues, a probationary period and a hostile boss.

Her personal life has also given her some knocks, and she and her friend Gloria are involved in online dating to try and find relationships that will work. So far, they have drawn a blank, with a series of disastrous first dates.

Penny takes on a new case at work, a young mother, Ashley, with two children who is being accused of neglect and possible child abuse by the children's school. Penny must tread carefully. Her first instincts are to sympathise with the very young, clearly depressed mother, and her two bright, troubled children. She believes the children are not being abused, but she isn't certain, and her boss, warning her against 'overinvolvement', puts a tight deadline on the time she has to demonstrate the family needs support rather than being split up.

And then Penny hits the dating jackpot. She meets the charming, handsome, successful Erik. She quickly becomes emotionally involved, but after they spend their first night together, Erik falls silent, and Penny is afraid she has been 'ghosted'. But then she finds out that Erik is dead – drowned in an unexplained boating accident. She begins to have suspicions that he was murdered and starts to dig around and ask questions.

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Much of the book focuses on Penny's life as a social worker, and the painstaking work she does to unravel the complexities of Ashley's life as she tries to keep the family together make for an engaging read. It gives good insights into the working life of a social worker, the kinds of decisions they are faced with and the responsibilities they have to live up to. It also explores the ways in which others involved with children at risk do not always carry out their roles well, and the problems and mistakes that can arise because of this. However, as a mystery, the book is less successful. The murder narrative takes second place to the story of the social worker with the result that the crime narrative is rushed and under-developed. The relationship between Erik and Penny is over in about three dates. Erik is little more than a cipher, so Penny's grief at his death does not fully convince. The 'accidental sleuth' motif is problematic as well. If Erik's death is so clearly murder, why are the police happy to sign it off as an accident? The links with the dating site and the idea of an obsessive killer stalking women through the site has a lot of potential, but is under-developed. The whole thing ends in a bit of a rush, almost as if English were doing her duty as a crime writer but is really far more engaged with the story of the social worker and the young mother. It doesn't help that the jacket copy appears to describe a serial killer book. If you are looking for a serial killer suspense novel, this is not the book for you. But it has its own merits. The writing is engaging. Penny and her friend Gloria are convincing, sympathetic characters, and the humour English works into her narrative gives light and shade to the novel. If the same level of writing was applied to the crime part of the narrative, then 'Girl Ghosted' would be an excellent book. Despite its flaws, it is certainly worth a read.

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