Thanks to Partners Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley for the digital ARC of Amy Suiter Clarke’s Girl, 11 in exchange for an honest review. The book is out today!
Elle Castillo is a true crime podcaster who investigates cold cases. A former social worker with her own history as a victim of crime, Elle chooses a different serial killer for each season of her podcast, determined both to rejuvenate the investigation and to focus attention on the victims.
Now, in season five, Elle decides to focus on The Countdown Killer. TCK’s first known victim was 20 years old. Three days after kidnapping her, he kidnapped a young woman who was 19. The body of the first victim was revealed seven days after she was taken. TCK is methodical, obsessed with numbers, and incredibly careful, leaving only very particular details for the police to investigate. He continues with his countdown, kidnapping and killing girls in order until one of his victims escapes. This is the 11-year-old girl, and though she recovers, she’s unable to provide any clues about TCK’s identity. His countdown ends, and most people think he’s dead. But Elle doesn’t agree.
Elle is in the midst of the season when she gets a tip from someone who thinks he knows who TCK might be. When she arrives at the caller’s apartment, she finds him dead, and there’s some indication that it might be his message to her that caused his death.
So, that’s the premise of the book, and I found that to be intriguing enough. What I really enjoyed about this one, though, is not this bare outline of the plot. Elle is a great protagonist: we know that her work as a podcaster and investigator is based on her desire to help people in ways she couldn’t always manage as a social worker. She also consults with the police, offering her investigative skills to help them uncover clues. She has a strong web of found family and friends—her husband Martín is a forensic investigator (he sometimes appears on the podcast); she also has a close friend Sash, and though Elle and Martín can’t have children, Sash’s daughter Natalie is like a part of their family. The sense of community support, of the ways that Elle has reached out—though she’s not close with her biological family—to make connections is lovely.
The style here is also great: the first part is told in alternating chapters, with transcripts of podcast episodes providing the background of TCK through interviews and Elle’s narration, and then the other chapters focusing on the current course of Elle’s investigation.
Though there were some twists and turns of the plot that I predicted, there were also some great surprises. Amy Suiter Clarke’s Girl, 11 is a strong, compelling, and thoughtful thriller that I’d recommend to readers looking for a balance of plot and character.
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I'm Jen Moyers, co-host of the Unabridged Podcast and an English teacher.