WEIRDO by Cathi Unsworth
CBTB Rating: 2.5/5
THE VERDICT: skip this one
WEIRDO was my first book by Cathi Unsworth, and I'm not completely sure that I'll read another by her. This book wasn't terrible by any means, but it lacked the drive that I look for in a crime read. Even slow-paced crime novels need something compelling the reader forward, and this book lacked that special something for me.
WEIRDO has a plot worthy of an awesome horror story, and I had high hopes for how Unsworth would develop it. This story centers around a crime committed decades ago: a schoolgirl accused of viciously murdering one of her peers in a ritualistic, almost Satanic ceremony. Now, 20 years later, a private investigator is hired to look into the case. Advancements in forensic science have raised questions about the accused's guilt—did she really act alone, and was her involvement in the crime voluntary? A story of past crimes and their carryover into the future of one quaint seaside town, WEIRDO has a truly compelling plot that just didn't quite translate into a compelling novel.
I mentioned it earlier, but I'll say it again: what disappointed me most about this read was its lack of urgency. With a plot like I described above, this story should be a slam-dunk: it has murder and teens dabbling in the occult, all set against the backdrop of a picturesque seaside village in England. It's a fantastic concept.
Unfortunately, I felt that Unsworth got bogged down in the details of her story's past. The story alternates between the time the crime was committed and the present day, and I would have loved if Unsworth spent her time a bit more intentionally. It's of course important to trace the events leading up to the crime, but I often found my attention wandering through pages dedicated to describing the teenage friends of the accused. Ultimately, only 3 or 4 out of nearly 10 of these characters are essential to the story—I think with some sharp editing and a shift away from the minutia of the plot, Unsworth would be free to explore some of the more compelling plotlines that run through her story.
And there are compelling parts of her story, don't get me wrong. I enjoyed Unsworth's exploration of toxic teenage friendships and relationships gone horribly wrong—there truly are some heartbreaking moments in this read. I was particularly interested in the story of the accused: when we meet her in the present day, she has been living in a psychiatric facility for the past 20 years, and she is essentially a ghost of her former self. I would have loved further exploration of this character; I wanted to know what had happened to her in the interim, and was disappointed when the story didn't delve into her life.
For all my moments of detachment while reading this book, I did enjoy the ending. The pieces of the story finally come together at the finale, and there were a few twists that genuinely surprised me. Unfortunately, my attention was never fully held by this read, and I would be hesitant to recommend it.