Katie Trent doesn’t really like Nathan Lucas. She’s only going out with him as a favour to her best friend Jess and her boyfriend Cayden, and now, because Jess is ill, she must go and see him on her own. To put up with his bad moods and even worse breath. And to make matters worse, he has two of his thuggish mates with him. They are waiting for something. Or someone. In a few short horrifying moments, Katie watches as Nathan and his mates lay into someone they think is neighbourhood bad boy Travis Barker. Nathan pulls a knife and before Katie knows what is happening he has stabbed the stranger twice.
But it’s not Travis they attacked, and the fallout from this awful case of mistaken identity is something that will haunt not only Katie, but her family and many of her friends for months to come. Because just days before the teenager’s trial, someone starts to attack the teenagers of Stockleigh. Young girls attacked by two strangers, scaring them by leaving them with the ominous warning, ‘Keep Your Mouth Shut.’ Is this a warning about the trial or is there some other reason for people to be terrorising the youth of Stockleigh?
When Cayden is attacked while on his meet Jess, it is easy for the police to dismiss as another of these mystery attacks. As Jess’s mother Laura receives a text message saying that Jess is staying at a friend’s house she is annoyed but thinks little of it, dismissing it as another of Jess’s typical acting out. But when Jess doesn’t come home as promised the following morning, Laura begins to worry. And when she calls Jess’s friend, her whole world begins to crumble around her. Because Jess didn’t go to her friends, and never made it to meet Cayden.
Detective Sergeant Eden Berrisford oversees the Community Intelligence Team, aka the ‘Sticking Plaster Team’, a job she loves. With her team assigned the case of the attacks on the teenagers, she needs to find out what has been going on before anything escalates. But when she is told that her niece Jess has gone missing, the case becomes far more personal than she could have expected. Is she another victim of these random attacks or has something more sinister happened? When Laura receives a call from a man claiming to be holding Jess, it becomes a race against the clock to find her before the community must mourn another lost child.
Well. Wow. What can I say? If you are looking for nerve-wracking and nail biting tension then look no further. From the opening chapter, you can tell that ‘The Girls Next Door’ is going to be a brilliant story. As each chapter unfurls you get a gradual building of tension, initially a catch up with the main protagonists and what has been happening in the months since that awful, fatal attack. And at the point at which you are introduced to Cayden Blackwell, the sense of foreboding really picks up, as does the tension. You know that he is up to no good but the level of brutality in the attack upon him seems out of proportion. Until Jess receives a text from his phone asking her to meet him rather than him pick her up. Uh-oh. That’s not good, now is it?
As each individual attack occurs on the girls, Sherratt creates such heart-thumping action and narrative that I’m pretty certain my cat could hear mine beating in my chest. He was certainly giving me funny looks. As each girl is captured and terrorised I was on the edge of my seat. What do they want from the girls? How far will they go? With Jess being abducted, is another one of them about to become a second victim … Well you’ll have to read for yourself, but it’s truly gripping and compelling writing which makes you want to read on and not look away. It was nail biting stuff and Sherratt creates such confusion for both police and reader, tantalising twists in the plot which won’t get straightened out until about two-thirds through.
At this point, when the kidnapper reveals himself to Laura, and what it is that has triggered him becomes a little clearer, I did wonder how, and if, it would be possible to keep up the tension. But Sherratt manages this beautifully. While you know how he has justified the kidnapping to himself, you still don’t know exactly why he did it or what his end game may be. And as Eden and her team follow some false leads, while Laura keep secrets from her sister, secrets that could jeopardise both her and Jess, I was every bit as gripped and engaged as I had been at the start.
The structure of this book is also very clever. Interspersed with the present-day action, which takes place over just a couple of days, are letters from Katie to her mother Maxine, letters in which she talks about what happened on the night that changed her life, and what is happening to her in the secure unit that she has been forced to call home. It all adds to the mystery and makes you question why has Jess been taken, the man blaming ‘her’ for the loss of his precious daughter.
The characters were equally compelling. Both the likeable and the reprehensible because even those who were victims were not entirely innocent. Jess has kept many secrets from her mother, but none of them justify what happens to her. And Eden’s relationship with her daughter, and her reluctance to let go of her ex-husband Danny, is something that I will be interested to see developed in subsequent books as this really feels like a ghost of a relationship which will definitely come back to haunt Eden in time. And the team dynamic among the detectives is great, some fantastic banter between them, but with overwhelming support for each other. And even the perpetrator is not an entirely unsympathetic character. You cannot forgive his actions, but can perhaps understand a little of what drove him to this place.
Full of misdirection, fast paced, short chapters and nail biting action, this was a great start to a new series from Mel Sherratt. She has a very likeable character in Eden Berrisford; a real note of authenticity about her, the single mother juggling work and home to keep her daughter on the right track. She is down to earth with a real community spirit and in somewhere like Stockleigh, this is bound to lead her into many an exciting adventure. I look forward to reading more.
A nerve wrenching, nail biting 5 stars.
I reviewed an ARC of ‘The Girls Next Door’ by Mel Sherratt from publishers Bookouture and NetGalley.
‘The Girls Next Door’ is published by Bookouture on 27th October and can be ordered here: