Source: Review copy
Publication: 10 June 2021 from Weidenfeld and Nicolson
St Christopher’s College, Cambridge, is a closed world to most.
For Mariana Andros – a group therapist struggling through her private grief – it’s where she met her late husband. For her niece, Zoe, it’s the tragic scene of her best friend’s murder.
As memory and mystery entangle Mariana, she finds a society full of secrets, which has been shocked to its core by the murder of one of its own.
Because behind its idyllic beauty is a web of jealousy and rage which emanates from an exclusive set of students known only as The Maidens. A group under the sinister influence of the enigmatic professor Edward Fosca.
A man who seems to know more than anyone about the murders – and the victims. And the man who will become the prime suspect in Mariana’s investigation – an obsession which will unravel everything…
The Maidens is a story of love, and of grief – of what makes us who we are, and what makes us kill.
My thanks to the publisher for an advance copy for review
Alex Michaelides does enjoy a rarified atmosphere. The Silent Patient, Michaelides first book, dealt with artist, Alice Berenson, accused of murdering her husband and a criminal psychotherapist, Theo Faber. In The Maidens, Mariana Andros is a group therapist who returns to her alma mater, Cambridge University, after the murder of a student.
Mariana grew up in Greece and met her husband Sebastian at Cambridge University and they married. But Sebastian drowned the previous year in a swimming accident and so returning to Cambridge brings difficult memories for Mariana. Tara, the murdered student was Zoe’s friend. She was brutally murdered; stabbed and left in a wood. Zoe is Mariana’s niece and her only close relative. She and Sebastian brought her up after Zoe’s parents died in a car crash and so Mariana returns to Cambridge to look after Zoe.
Michaelides beautifully evokes the Cambridge University atmosphere of cloistered walls, academic excellence and bowler-hatted porters who watch over it all. It’s a great setting for a murder mystery.
The Maidens connects the murder with Mariana using echoes of Greek myths, Before Sebastian’s death, he and Mariana had visited an ancient temple on Naxos dedicated to Demeter (and Persephone. Persephone is known as “Kore” to the Greeks and that means “maiden”. Now, at Cambridge, she finds a classics professor, Edward Fosca, has a group of female students around him who are referred to as ‘The Maidens’.
Fosca is a dark, good-looking American a specialist in the Classics, notably Greek tragedies. The young women who form his posse all dress in white like Greek maidens. Mariana dislikes him on sight and resolves to help with the investigation when Zoe convinces Mariana that the police have arrested the wrong man.
Mariana is no super sleuth, she is still grieving for Sebastian and when two more women are murdered, she becomes obsessed with proving that Fosca is responsible.
Using her skills as a therapist she tries to analyse Fosca’s group, even inviting them to a session to explore what is really going on. But the more she digs, the deeper she gets caught up in what seems to be becoming a seriously dangerous obsession. There’s a nice nod to The Silent Patient when Theo Faber is given a small cameo in the book.
The Maidens is a slow burn of a book to begin with. Michaelides takes his time setting up the atmospherically rich Cambridge world and this bears fruit when the combination of the refined college atmosphere melds with bloody Greek myths and a series of ritualistic murders. Greek mythology is represented not just by Mariana’s past and Edward Fosca’s present, but also through postcards which the killer distributes. There’s a sense of menace that creeps up on the reader through the book and we fear for Mariana’s life and her sanity.
Verdict: The Maidens is an intense mystery within a stifling atmosphere and the sheer toxicity of Fosca’s masculinity and his posse of adoring young women stands out. It’s no wonder Mariana fixates on him. Michealides though, gives us many suspects to consider and when the killer is finally revealed, the truth is even more pernicious and surprising. An intelligent, cleverly plotted murder mystery.
Alex Michaelides was born and raised in Cyprus. He has an M.A. in English literature from Trinity College, Cambridge University, and an M.A. in screenwriting from the American Film Institute in Los Angeles. The Silent Patient was his first novel and was the biggest-selling debut in the world in 2019. It spent more than a year on the New York Times bestseller list and sold in a record-breaking forty-nine countries. Alex lives in London