Source: Review copy
Publication: 7 July from Sphere
My thanks to Sphere for an advance copy for review
Sun-drenched glamour and obscene wealth hide the darkest of secrets and lost girls in this ripped-from-the-headlines thriller.
For twelve-year-old Mercedes, La Kastellana is the place she calls home. It is an island untouched by the modern world, with deep-rooted traditions – though that is all about to change with the arrival of multimillionaire Matthew Meade and his spoiled young daughter, Tatiana. The Meades bring with them unimaginable wealth, but the price they will all pay is far darker than Mercedes and the islanders could ever have imagined.
Robin is desperately searching for her seventeen-year-old daughter Gemma, who has been missing for over a year. Finding herself on La Kastellana, the island playground of the international jet set, Robin is out of her depth. Nobody wants to help and Robin fears she is running out of time to find her child.
But someone has been watching, silently waiting for their moment to expose the dark truth and reveal to the world what really happens on the island of lost girls.
This book is heart-breaking and full of loathsome things that will have your stomach heaving. It is also strong, affirmative and bloody brilliant. It completely blew me out the water.
I’m a massive fan of Alex Marwood’s writing and here she brings her subjects alive, every single repugnant wart glistening on the face of sheer, loathsome evil. Set on a sunny Greek Island, Marwood takes us deep into shadows and crevasses of the rocks where sharp and rough edges lie ready to pierce the skin with every mis-step.
The Island of Lost Girls will unquestionably remind you of one family and one recent series of criminal revelations, but readers should be in no doubt that this is behaviour that is replicated throughout the world, wherever money talks and men wield it as a weapon of power.
Set over two timelines on the island of La Kastellana, a beautiful, unspoilt island where the inhabitants follow their religion and fealty and deference are due to the old Duke whose family has ruled the island for generations.
But things are changing. A new Duke, the crapulous Matthew Meade, has radical ideas about the Island and he and his daughter Tatiana are determined that their super yacht, globe-trotting lifestyle will now encompass La Kastellana and they bring with them a host of rich and powerful men whose appetites are varied and all too easily jaded. So Tatiana and her father supply what others cannot.
Robin is on La Kastellana, desperately looking for her teenage daughter, Gemma. Gemma has run away from home and her mother, increasingly anxious for her welfare, has been following snippets of her whereabouts from Gemma’s friends’ social media accounts and has seen that Gemma talked of attending a party on La Kastellana.
Mercedes works in her family’s local restaurant and she and her parents, together with her beautiful sister Donatella, work morning, noon and night to make it a success. When Tatiana and her father arrive in on their super yacht and Tatiana spots Mercedes, she decides that Mercedes will be her friend for the duration of their stay. And what Tatiana wants, she gets, courtesy of Daddy’s dosh.
The Island of Lost Girls follows Gemma’s story alongside that of Robin and Mercedes, with a pretty big cast of characters along the way. Marwood shows us all too clearly how well money talks and how easy it is to wield the power that it brings and in so doing, to bring more power and influence into the orbit of the wielder.
Marwood shows us the corruption of an entire island as the old feudal system kicks in hard and when bad things start to happen it is always the women who are blamed, even by those who would see themselves as the most religious. A free spirit in a woman is a thing to be crushed and bowed to the will of men. That attitude of complicity plays well into Matthew Meade’s agenda and both Mercedes and Donatella will soon find themselves being unwillingly crushed under the pressure.
This is, however, a nuanced story and though it is hard to find compassion for Tatiana, nevertheless we can come to see this spoiled and vicious socialite as a very distinct product of her upbringing and horrendous parenting. It is very hard not to draw parallels with contemporary cases and to shudder as you realise exactly what has gone on at some of Tatiana’s parties where would be young ‘models’ are paraded in the modern day equivalent of a slave auction.
It’s a painful and deeply abhorrent story made bearable by the strength and tenacity of some of the women who feature. Mercedes may change a great deal throughout this book but she never loses her capacity for real love, nor her absolute determination to set things as right as they can be.
Verdict: This is riveting, fearsome fare that should and does make you flinch. It is disturbing and involving and it is heart-breaking. It also, I believe, makes you review what you think you know about recent events and that makes it incredibly challenging and thought –provoking, too…
As ever, Marwood’s writing is brilliant and intense and her plotting is immaculate. A first class must read novel of our times.
Alex Marwood is the pseudonym of a journalist who has worked extensively across the British press. She is the author of the word-of-mouth sensation The Wicked Girls, which won a prestigious Edgar Award, The Killer Next Door, which won the coveted Macavity Award, The Darkest Secret and The Poison Garden. She has also been shortlisted for numerous other crime writing awards and her novels have been optioned for the screen. Alex lives in south London.