Title/Author: The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
Publisher: Celadon Books
In a nutshell (Publisher):
Edward Fosca is a murderer. Of this Mariana is certain. But Fosca is untouchable. A handsome and charismatic Greek tragedy professor at Cambridge University, Fosca is adored by staff and students alike—particularly by the members of a secret society of female students known as The Maidens.
Mariana Andros is a brilliant but troubled group therapist who becomes fixated on The Maidens when one member, a friend of Mariana’s niece Zoe, is found murdered in Cambridge.
Mariana, who was once herself a student at the university, quickly suspects that behind the idyllic beauty of the spires and turrets, and beneath the ancient traditions, lies something sinister. And she becomes convinced that, despite his alibi, Edward Fosca is guilty of the murder. But why would the professor target one of his students? And why does he keep returning to the rites of Persephone, the maiden, and her journey to the underworld?
When another body is found, Mariana’s obsession with proving Fosca’s guilt spirals out of control, threatening to destroy her credibility as well as her closest relationships. But Mariana is determined to stop this killer, even if it costs her everything—including her own life.
This is my first Michaelides book. I have yet to read ‘The Silent Patient’ which has received many rave reviews.
Reading its synopsis, ‘The Maidens’ gave me those dark academic vibes which I loved in The Secret History. So diving in, I had my hopes high, expecting all the suspense, twists and turns, and dark, cult-like feel. Unfortunately, I got none of those.
We follow Mariana, a group psychotherapist, who, after receiving a call from her niece, Zoe, about the disappearance of a college roommate, decided to go to her to offer support and consolation. While being with Zoe in Cambridge, Zoe expressed her suspicion towards Professor Fosca. Convinced that her niece was right, Mariana decided to try to solve this murder herself. But the thing was, despite Zoe’s allegations, Professor Edrward Fosca had his ‘maiden’s’ as alibis. So the question was, were they covering for him?
First, what I enjoyed. The writing made the story readable and the short chapters kept the plot going which suited my short attention span then. I also appreciated learning a little about the mythology of Demeter and Persephone, the Maiden. Also, reading some of the Ancient Greek texts, written verbatim, sort of added a layer of intrigue to it.
Now, my gripes. If you’re a fan of this book, please, bear with me.
The murderer was way too obvious from the start. Despite all the suspicious characters, I wasn’t swayed one bit, because the misdirection and red herrings were kind of obvious. Since I was settled on the murderer, the only thing that kept me going was to read till the end to prove myself right, and of course the motive behind the murders. I really wouldn’t mind the story if it had great characterization and a page-turning plot. But I’m afraid, this story lacked in both.
If not for the writing and short chapters, I might have hard time finishing this book easily. Not only there weren’t any tension throughout the story, the characters were uninteresting too. Firstly, Mariana. The way she worshipped her husband, whom she was still mourning for, was a little excessive, I felt. Then, the countless times she made those ridiculous choices (like when she accepted an a dinner invitation to the professor’s place even though she felt certain he was the murderer). I mean, I know in real life, this does happen (eg: this show I saw on ID channel. This woman knew the guy was a murderer on the run, and yet, she went all the way back to Mexico and asked him if he was really the murderer. After he denied it (obviously), she pretended to accept his excuse and continued to stay with him. And this murderer, happened to be her son’s roommate!!!), but to do it one after another?
And there are countless similar scenes like this one, when she constantly let men mistreat her, and yet wanted to portray herself as a strong and an independent woman:
Fosca smiled. “Good…My rooms, at eight? And one more thing—”
Before she could stop him, he leaned forward—
And he kissed her on the lips.
It only lasted a second. By the time Mariana could react, he had already pulled back.
Fosca turned and went through the open gate. Mariana heard him whistling as he walked away.
She brushed away the kiss with her fist.
How dare he?
She felt as if she had been assaulted—attacked; and that he had won somehow, succeeded in wrong-footing, intimidating her.
I mean, she already hated him, and yet, she allowed him to assault her like that, and all she could afford was a, ‘How dare he?’ *smh* There was also this character, a graduate student who fell head over heels for Maria and proposed to her soon after. Where did the author intend to go with this?
And she played detective by convincing her ex-colleague to give her access to murder and crime scenes given her credentials as a psychotherapist. I don’t know if I could make myself believe this. I mean, is it that easy to be investigating a crime and easily getting access to crime scenes without having any connection to it nor related experience? Even she admitted to not able to help, “I don’t see how I can help. I’m a psychotherapist, not a detective.”
Next. ‘The Maidens’ in this book was a group of six females who were smitten by Fosca, or whom Conrad (one of the many supposedly suspicious characters) referred to as ‘the witches‘ and described as ‘boisterous‘ and known for having wild parties. These young women were in a study group with him ‘discussing poetry, enjoying wine and intellectual debate‘, and they thought, by being Fosca’s ‘maidens’, they were special and separated themselves from the rest of their peers. Fosca seemed to be their reason for being. In their eyes, he could do no wrong. Honestly, as intriguing and ‘intellectual’ as they were made to sound, “distinctive because they were all extremely beautiful and because they were all dressed in white; in long white dresses.” I didn’t find them particularly interesting.
And the reason for the murder I thought was maybe a little far-fetched. BUT, that’s not to say it wasn’t possible, given how psychotic the murderer was. When I used to watch ID shows on TV, I’d always end up exclaiming, “WTH?! Why did he/she do that?!” and my husband’s reply would always be, “Coz they’re psychos?”
Maybe this book just wasn’t for me. I’m now contemplating if I should read ‘The Silent Patient’ which everyone had raved about.
But don’t let my review deter you from reading this book. You might end enjoying it like many others had.
Also, I have a question that has been bugging me. Are these ‘privileged societies’ common in prestigious universities? Because I’m not aware of them.
Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me if you’ve heard or are aware of them.
Thank you Celadon Books for an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.