The Girl Who Lived: Megan's Story by Paul Dale Anderson had me riveted. I was glued to the pages and I could not put it down. I started reading it one morning, read all day, and fell asleep reading it that night. The next morning, I had it finished within an hour. It was superb, fantastic, and well-crafted. I absolutely loved it.
Megan was just a normal girl, trying to find her place in the world while her parents got divorced. After moving in with her sister, Susan, her life took a sharp turn toward Hell. She got beaten, raped, cut to ribbons, and left for dead. Her sister found her, saved her life, and Megan spent years recovering. She then spent some time hunting down the men who'd raped her, fearing that they'd go after her sister again like they'd originally planned. She almost succeeded, too, until she was caught and locked up in an institute for the criminally insane after castrating three men and letting them bleed out, then shooting her four rapists, killing one of them.
But, all of that already happened in the first book. This one here is the sequel. I actually haven't read the first book yet. It's titled Spilled Milk. I can't wait to read it. But here's the great part, the part I love about authors and writing, series and sequels. You don't actually have to read the first one to understand the second one. Everything you need to know is in this novel. References are explained. There are no dangling lines that refer to something from the past that isn't explained. I freaking love that! It drives me kind of bonkers when an author has "inside jokes" or past references peppered throughout their work that only make any sense at all if you've read all of the (5, 10, 20) other books in the series. This book is a sequel, but it works as a stand-alone. I love that!
The story is well written. It's full of suspense. It’s a police procedural, mixed with a serial killer thriller, mixed with an investigative journalism novel. The chapters range in size, from a few pages to quite long. Each perspective shift occurs at chapter changes. Actually, let's talk about perspective...
The book opens in first person, from Megan's point of view. She's in a mental hospital, trying to convince a shrink that she's now sane so that she can get out and exact her revenge on the men who destroyed her life. She must get out so that she can finish what she's started. Three of her rapists are still alive and she can't have that, now, can she?
The narrative shifts to third person as we move around town, getting to know the other people involved in this suspenseful tale. We see through the eyes and minds of a number of people, which really builds the anxiety for the reader. I thought the shifts were well placed and skillfully executed. When we leave off with one character, it's a total cliffhanger. Then the next chapter will go to someone else's activities and you just have to keep reading to find out what happened to so-and-so.
Now, it's also important to note tense as well as perspective. The first-person sections are all in the present tense. While it may bother some people, I freaking loved it! Having her tell her part as it's happening really builds the tension. Maybe it's because I loved Bone Music so much, but I really felt that the way Anderson switched things up in this novel worked quite well.
Early in the book, Megan's style of narrative changes. In the first chapter, she's using first/third. (I, he, she, they.) But by the second or third time we're in her mind, she has shifted to using first/second. (I and you.) It's almost like she's leaving a journal or writing letters to the people she's interacting with. But she's not. It's more like she's disassociating while she tells the story to herself in her head. She's detaching herself from the situations and looking in from the outside, even when she's involved. It's a very subtle narrative tool that I appreciated immensely. By talking to the bad guy in her head ("I hear you talking about me.") she seems to be feeling more justified in her actions.
It is subtle. It is not spelled out. But I like the feeling that maybe she is having some sort of psychotic break. She's not that big on talking to people that she dislikes, but she'll stew over them in her mind. Even though she's losing it, she's still fairly spot on with her assumptions and her reading of the bad guys as being bad.
I liked that Anderson had Megan be so observant and intuitive. Because sometimes, a sister knows when she's needed, even if she is a bit of a psycho herself. A victim--a survivor--has to learn to adapt and observe. They have to be able to read body language and intent in other people with an accuracy that borders on mind reading. Seriously. Do you want to meet a great judge of character? Talk to someone who's been a severe victim of violence, only to rise up and become stronger than they were before. They can often read people like they are books. There is no hiding your evil from a strong survivor. And that's exactly what Megan is. That makes this book feel real.
I also liked the mob element of this novel. It really made things a lot more interesting. Seeing things from the perspective of various police officers, a serial killer, and the investigative reporter also provided essential elements to the plot and the suspense. I really did love the switching of perspectives. It was also never left for you to wonder who we were with at the start of each new chapter. Anderson says it right away.
Megan has a mantra throughout the novel. "I am nothing if not patient." I did not find it redundant. I really liked it, but then, that's something I've said for years. I am many things, though, so I often change the last word. It was frequently her last words in her chapters and it really added to the thrill, the desire to keep reading to find out what happens next.
Overall, this was a fantastic book. I'm really looking forward to reading the first one. If Anderson happens to have come out with a third, I'll definitely be buying it in the bookstore while I'm here at ThrillerFest. Since this book was only released last year, I bet you can find it in the bookstore this year. You should totally buy it. I can't recommend it enough. You can find more about Paul Dale Anderson's decades of writing here. Or, you can find him here at ThrillerFest. He's usually out on the mezzanine smoking. Oh, but not this year. He had family stuff to do. Check for him again next year. But until then, go buy some of his books.