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Thoughts on “The Maidens” by Alex Michaelides

Amazon Summary: 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, 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.

Warning: The following contains some spoilers for The Maidens. Reader discretion is advised.

After Michaelides’ knock-out debut The Silent Patient, I had high-hopes for his sophomore novel. Considering how binge-worthy and spine-tingling its predecessor was, it was difficult to imagine anything other than another action-packed thriller from this newbie novelist.

Cambridge? Murder? Greek myth? Dark Academia?

What could possibly go wrong?

Everything.

The answer is everything.

This books is what would happen if Tommy Wiseau wrote a murder-“mystery.”

On top of being an uncompelling mystery, this book showcases some of the worst dialogue I have encountered in my life as a reader. It’s not a simple matter of the conversations being predictable or cliché. No, what makes the dialogue so awful is it jumps from point-to-point with no cohesive train of thought. It feels like the reader is playing a boring video game where they have the cycle through all the dialogue options in order to progress the narrative.

It doesn’t help matters that each character acts like a space alien that has never interacted with a human being before.

Students in this novel are brutally murdered, but we hardly see any emotional ramifications such violence would have on a college campus. The weirdness of this is compounded by the fact that our protagonist is meant to be a therapist. Considering her entire vocation revolves around emotions and how they influence a person’s behavior, you would think the story would delve more into the psyche of both students and faculty alike. However, it just sort of tap dances around the emotional trauma and wears you down with the “mystery” aspect of the book.

The professor—the persona non grata on the dust jacket—in particular is a very poorly-written character. One moment he is truly upset about one of his students being murdered, and the next he is asking a stranger out on a date within hours of the crime being committed.

You might think this isn’t unusual behavior for a psychopath and, well, you are correct.

The only problem is… SPOILER ALERT.….he didn’t do it.

So, if Edward Fosca isn’t the murderer, why is he acting like a complete weirdo with no social skills? How does he go from weeping over his students being gored like wild boars to trying to seduce a stranger in a matter of hours? How does any of this make sense from a character-writing perspective?

Of course, the obvious answer to this question is the professor is a red-herring. Unfortunately, it is so obvious he did do it that—by the rules of the genre—he can’t be the murderer. Anyone that has ever picked up a mystery before knows that the more obvious the suspect, the less likely it is they committed the crime.

And before anyone rushes to their keyboard to defend this book, claiming it’s supposed to be a thriller and not a mystery, read the acknowledgement. The author himself says this book is meant to be a whodunnit.

All that being said, if the professor didn’t do it, nothing about his behavior makes logical sense. If he’s supposed to be innocent, why isn’t he more affected by all these murders? Any normal person would be beside themselves with horror if a student they personally taught was killed, especially in such a gruesome fashion.

Yeah, he could just be a weirdo, but the whole charade comes across as bad writing rather than a convincing diversion from the real culprit. If the writer really wanted to throw us, he could have had the main character ask the professor on a date rather than the other way around. She could have used it as an excuse to be proactive and search his room for clues, winning him over with her wit and charm so she is able to crack the mysterious facade he has made for himself. The way it is written in the book, however, the professor asks her out and she says “yes”, at least marginally convinced at this point he is the murderer. And then, for some reason, she decides to drink and eat the food he gives her anyway. Why? How does that make sense?

While we’re on the subject of characters and their mishandling, let’s talk about the main character. To say Mariana’s connection to the murders is tenuous at best is being charitable. As far as I can tell, apart from having a niece that goes to Cambridge, she has no real reason to be invested. Nor does the college have much of a reason to tolerate her presence. She uses her status as a group therapist to con her way into staying, but she goes through virtually no red-tape in this venture and is more or less welcomed to stay at the campus indefinitely.

You would think after the brutal murder of a college student, they would have beefed up security a bit.

If the writer wanted us to feel invested on the main character’s behalf, they should have made her a teacher or something. Better yet, Michaelides could have shown us multiple perspectives so we could have gotten an insider’s view into what these girls were like prior to their death. It would have been intriguing to see the politics of an Ivy League school. If nothing else, it would have made the characters more life-like and interesting. As it stands, I did not care one wit about any of these people or their deaths.

I don’t want anyone to misconstrue this review. I wanted to like this book. I enjoyed The Silent Patient and it’s tie-ins to Greek mythology. I was looking forward to another story by the same writer.

That being said, I’m still trying to wrap my head around what went wrong here. Did he let the pressure of writing a second book after a debut best-seller get to him? Did he procrastinate until the week before it was due? Did he just do a lot of cocaine?

I have no idea.

All I know is that this novel, to me, was an unmitigated disaster and I wish I could take back those 4 hours of my life.

4 thoughts on “Thoughts on “The Maidens” by Alex Michaelides”

  1. I have no desire to read this book, but I’m really starting to enjoy other bloggers’ reviews. So far, three book bloggers I respect have reviewed it. Two (one is you) hated it and hilariously took it down. One loved it.

    Sorry about those four hours of your life, but at least they provided me some momentary entertainment.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The best review I’ve read of this book so far! I just finished it, rather quickly, but also wish I hadn’t picked it up. I’ve decided to just go with my own explanation of Edward Fosca being a serial killer, just not the right one, or at least an aspiring cult leader. The characters and the explanations around them were lacking in so many aspects.

    Everyone seem to like The Silent Patient better, but does it have more complex characters? This book made me highly doubt the skill of the author, but you tell me if the other book is worth a try?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment!

      Fosca is certainly the latter if not anything else.

      I wouldn’t exactly say the characters in The Silent Patient are super complex, but at the very least, their motivations make sense and the dialogue––while not exactly Shakespeare–isn’t painfully clunky.

      I think the melding of Greek mythos works a hell of a lot better thematically in Patient than it does in Maidens. Patients actually works as a mystery as well and is fast-paced throughout, so I personally like and recommend it. I’m still trying to wrap my head around how these two books were written by the same person.

      Liked by 1 person

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