Audiobook Review: The Dead Girl’s Club by Damien Angelica Walters
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Horror, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Tantor Audio (June 30, 2020)
Length: 10 hrs and 38 mins
I know, I know, I should have read this book a long time ago, but it had fallen off my radar and only popped back on it recently when the audiobook was released. And I’m so glad! Thinking it was going to be your typical run-of-the-mill thriller suspense mystery, I picked up The Dead Girls Club for some reliable entertainment but discovered it to be about so much more.
Like so many other novels of its kind that I’ve read lately, the story is told via dual timelines. In the present, our protagonist Heather Cole has a successful career helping troubled teens and is happily married to the love of her life. But one day, she receives a mysterious package that suddenly brings all the chilling memories of her past rushing back. Inside the innocuous envelope is an item she knows well from her childhood: a cheap metal half-heart pendant friendship necklace which used to hang around the neck of her best friend Becca, and that was also where Heather saw it last—the day the other girl died, almost thirty years ago. Unnerved, Heather tries to convince herself that it must be some sick prank. Might it even be possible the perpetrator is Becca’s mother, who was convicted for murdering her daughter? The woman did recently get released from prison, after all. Surely, no one else but Heather knows what really happened that night?
In the second timeline, we find out exactly what happened to Heather and Becca that fateful summer when they were both twelve years old. Following them and two other friends, Gia and Rachel, who together made up the Dead Girls Club—so named because the four of them would get together every week in an abandoned old house to share stories about true crime and serial killers—we flash back to 1991, when everything between them was still easy and carefree. But the trouble begins when Becca shows up to a meeting one day wanting to tell a very different kind of story. Through her reading, Becca claims to have found a record of a woman known as the Red Lady, executed centuries ago by her village on suspicion of witchcraft. Fascinated, the other girls demand to know more, thinking it is just a story, but Becca seems to believe the Red Lady was real, and not only that, her spirit also still haunts the real world and speaks to those who want to make contact. As Becca sinks deeper into her obsession, a crack develops between her and Heather’s friendship, becoming wider by the day as the stories about the Red Lady become increasingly more disturbing, growing wildly out of hand.
What began as a suspenseful mystery with eerie undertones ultimately transformed into full-blown horror as things got underway. And yet, I think the book did a good job maintaining that hybrid balance, featuring plenty of thrills along with the creeping supernatural dread. It’s hard to decide which timeline I enjoyed more; they both brought their strengths to the plot, keeping momentum and interest high as we alternated between the two threads. In the present, Heather is stricken with fear and paranoia as the ominous arrival of the friendship necklace is followed by other surprises in the mail, along with signs that she may be being stalked. Gradually, readers also get to learn the reason for Heather’s anxiety, as her past unfolds the “Then” timeline—revealing that our protagonist isn’t exactly the innocent victim she appeared to be. The paranormal element is also stronger in this past timeline, making you question what’s real and what’s not. It doesn’t help that Becca likes to play mind tricks, getting into the other girls’ heads. In addition, Heather is not the most reliable of narrators, especially in the present, where it is unclear if she is experiencing fugue states and her memory is repeatedly questioned.
Unfortunately, this resulted in some holes in the story that didn’t make sense—not big ones, but they were enough to prevent the book from getting the full five stars. Ironically, I think the author may have tried too hard to definitively tie everything together with explanations when leaving some vagaries out there may have been more advantageous, allowing readers to use their imaginations and draw their own conclusions.
However, this doesn’t change my positive impression of Damien Angelica Walters. While I’ve had her books on my TBR for ages, this is the first time I’ve actually read her work. And I will say right now, it will most definitely not be the last. I just love her style and the way her prose hooks you from the very start. And on a personal note, I also discovered while reading this book that she is a local author, from the way she incorporated the areas of central and northeast Maryland in her setting. I had a chuckle at the way she described the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel, because it is just so darn true, and it also felt pretty neat to recognize a lot of the cities and towns mentioned, being able to say, “Hey, I know where she’s talking about” as the character traveled from place to place.
Overall, I’m excited to finally say I’ve read Damien Angelica Walters, considering how often her horror has been recommended to me and how long I’ve had her work on my reading list. The Dead Girls Club ended up being a screaming good time and an absolute spine-tingling joy to read!
Audiobook Comments: Fantastic performance by Devon Sorvari, who gave Heather a realistic down-to-earth voice while still keeping a high level of tension in the tone of her narration, keeping me on my toes at all times.