Source: Review copy
Publication: 3 June 2021 from Black Thorn
Note for readers: This book was originally published under the title Mosaic
My thanks to Black Thorn Books for an early copy for review
Megan Melvick has spent years avoiding her inheritance, the dark and disquieting family estate Benbrae, now home only to her distant, aristocratic father, and her sister Melissa, dying quietly in an upstairs bedroom. Trapped behind her unreliable hearing aids and vulnerable to what others want her to see, Megan is unable to find the answers she wants: why is there a new woman on her father’s arm? And why has their absent mother not returned to say a final goodbye to Melissa?
Benbrae has always been a place of loss and misfortune for Megan, but as the Melvick family diminishes still further, she must ask one final question. If there is a curse on the house, will she be its next victim?
I love Caro Ramsay’s Anderson and Costello series, so I was keen to read The Cursed Girls, a stand-alone psychological thriller.
Megan Melvick is heading back home to Benbrae in Argyll after a three-year absence to visit her dying sister, Melissa. Approaching the Scottish country estate where she grew up, memories come flooding back and they are not happy ones. Megan always lived in the shadow of the headstrong and beautiful actress, Melissa.
Megan only had one childhood friend, the wild and in your face Carla, ostracised by the rest of the family as highly unsuitable, and it is these two voices whose guide the story, switching from past to present. Carla’s brutal take on events is scathing and she really tells it as it is. Megan misses her friend terribly. Megan is hard of hearing, though she wasn’t born that way,and she can’t remember when she became so. She likes the silence, though. There’s a history of mental instability in the Melvick family which has caused everything from suicide to sleep-walking and indeed the hanging tree in the gardens is a permanent reminder of just how toxic this house can be.
The history of the Melvick family is laced with tragedy and it seems that this aristocratic lineage is cursed. Megan herself will be the sole surviving heir to the estate once Melissa passes and she really doesn’t want to live in the Italian House, as it is called; this evil house which she finds unpleasant and full of terrible memories.
Melissa and Jago got married in this house five years ago and now Melissa is dying. It was at her wedding that tragedy struck and a bridesmaid died. Megan’s mother Beth also disappeared that night and no-one has heard from her since. Speculation is that she ran off with another man. Ivan Melvick, the Lord Lieutenant of the County and Megan’s father, now has a new woman in his life.
Megan does not know what happened the night of Melissa’s wedding, but she does know that the police at the time said it was an accident. Now there’s a new investigation underway. Megan is further unsettled by Melissa’s last word to her, as she sits at her dying sister’s bedside, Melissa tells her she is sorry…and then dies.
As Megan begins to unravel, we question just how reliable a narrator she is. She is suffering from memory loss and blackouts, and the drugs her father’s doctor prescribes do not seem to help. As she tries to confront what happened in her past can we rely on what she remembers?
Caro Ramsay delivers a beautiful dark and gloomy atmosphere of a toxic house laced with poison where secrets as dark as bitter chocolate prevail and class prejudice runs through this family like Blackpool through a stick of rock. Tight plotting and vividly drawn characters make this complex, layered and ultimately sad tale spring to life. There’s a fabulous Christie-esque feel to the book too with class divides and a terrific final revelatory scene.
Verdict: The Cursed Girls is a taut psychological thriller of a cocktail made with murder and madness, wrapped in secrets, sprinkled with red-herrings and chilled with suspense. It slips down easily and left this reader giddy with delight.
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Caro Ramsay is the Glaswegian author of the critically acclaimed Anderson and Costello series, the first of which, Absolution, was shortlisted for the CWA’s New Blood Dagger for best debut of the year. The ninth book in the series, The Suffering of Strangers, was longlisted for the McIlvanney Prize 2018.