If you like Dan Brown and Paula Hawkins (and many people do, myself included), you will enjoy the first 87% of Alex Michaelides’ The Maidens. It’s a fast-paced suspenseful mystery in the Gothic setting of present-day Cambridge University where the sexy ancient Greek literature professor, Edward Fosca, leads a cult dedicated to the goddess Persephone.
It’s a small cult. Only six of his “special” female students are in it. They are the maidens, and they’re special because they’re super hot. They have strange rituals, and we’re pretty sure R-rated sex is involved.
Tara is a maiden, and she is friends with Zoe. Mariana is Zoe’s aunt. Zoe calls Mariana and tells her she’s scared, but she won’t say why. The following day Tara turns up murdered in such a grisly fashion Hollywood must have directed it.
Mariana jumps on the next train to Cambridge. Meets a clumsy, creepy guy. Then meets Professor Fosca on campus and immediately decides he’s the killer – instead of Clumsy Creepy, who keeps showing up at strange times and odd places. Professor Fosca has an airtight alibi, but Mariana isn’t concerned about that.
So Mariana must be a brilliant detective if she’s going to solve this mystery. Nope. She’s a group therapist. But to be fair, the Cambridge police appear to be on holiday, so Mariana might be the best option. Except she is still mourning her beloved husband. He died a year ago. And she has big-time daddy issues. Does her grief and the trauma of her childhood blind her to the possibility that Professor Fosca is not the killer? While she’s trying to sort that out, two more maidens die ritualistically, and Hollywood officially has a joy boner.
This novel has literary pretensions. There are brief discussions of Euripides’ plays. Every once in a while Tennyson is mentioned. Mr. Michaelides has read a lot of literature, but he’s not interested in writing it. He has a MA in screenwriting, and he is clearly trying to write a Hollywood blockbuster. To his credit, he may have done just enough to have succeeded. Time will tell.
Unfortunately the last 13% of the book is a rushed mess. It will leave you feeling confused and cheated. It seems like Mr. Michaelides was having a good old time writing this book and then realized his deadline was the next day so he hurriedly pasted together an ending. One so implausible Dan Brown would blush. An ending so unsatisfying it just might be a misdemeanor in Virginia.
It’s as if a Greek goddess, perhaps Persephone herself, appeared in his bedroom just before he wrote the final chapters and said here’s your ending. And Mr. Michaelides said this makes no sense. To which Persephone demanded do you dare defy a goddess? He did not.
Gladiola Overdrive, Chief Editor