The Girls Inside
Standalone or series
First time reading this author?
Why I picked this
The description. Cult survivors haunted by secrets of the past sounded like an interesting concept.
Review copy or purchase
Thank you to the author, publishers Orion Dash and online book club Pigeonhole for access to read this for free. This is an honest and voluntary review.
What it’s about
Blue was one of a handful of survivors of a cult. As a child she walked away from the blazing ruins of the abusive cult with a small group of other survivors, but growing up she cut them out of her life. Now one of those people has died leaving Blue custody of her 10-year-old daughter, and Blue has to fact up to the reality of what happened during her childhood.
I loved some of these characters, but the final reveal and ‘bad guy’ let the whole thing down.
Blue Sillietoe grew up in a cult. Her mother fell under the influence of a charismatic leader in northern Wales and moved into Black House with her daughter when Blue was just five years old.
Sexual abuse, starvation and violence were common in the cult and Blue’s only comfort was in the company of the three girls she shared a dorm with, two of whom (Lisa and Natasha) she escaped with one night fleeing a terrible fire at Black House.
Years later Blue has built a life away from the trauma. Living in London, working in a record store with recovering addict and ageing ex-rock star Isaac, and keeping as far away as she can from her past. She hasn’t kept in touch with any of the other survivors, although she knows Lisa committed suicide a few years previously and she does visit Lisa’s grave regularly. So, she is shocked when she’s contacted by a solicitor to say Natasha had also now died and her will names Blue as the guardian of Natasha’s 10-year-old daughter, Penelope.
Natasha’s death and the questions of a reporter looking to write a book about the tragedies which followed the Black House survivors, prompt Blue to begin to ask the questions she has long suppressed about what really happened to her as a child. Will she have to go back to Black House to find the truth?
This book had a lot of early promise. The cult survivor and the sense of hidden secrets from childhood really pulled me in. Blue is a bit spiky, a bit vulnerable and really admirable. Her boss and father figure Isaac is fab, he gives a really good sense of someone who has seen it all, but cares deeply, giving a balance of tough love and selfless support. Penelope’s quiet determination and resilience are adorable and they have the world’s most practical and understanding social work in Dee. It’s great to see such a positive portrayal of a social worker who both cares and is effective rather than the usual overworked and uncaring trope that appears in fictional social workers.
The twists and turns are largely predictable, but still enjoyable. However, there are two big let downs. One is the lack of research. It doesn’t need to be a police procedural, but the single Met Police detective who ends up instructing a Welsh armed police officer to shoot to wound not kill comes across as patronising and ridiculous. The message is clearly that the Met Police can do whatever they like and one single detective is worth more than an entire police force. She’s not even painted as the talented rogue cop who subverts the rules to get the result she knows is morally if not procedurally right. The local force are just an insignificant plotting tool.
Likewise the geography of Wales shrinks to about the size of a large town, with journeys that (according to Welsh Pigeonhole readers) would take the large part of a day, being covered by a short Uber ride. In a part if the storyline where tension should have been building trying to figure out the logic if the geography was an unnecessary distraction.
The second let down is how the character development fails in the second half of the book. Blue goes from the suspicious and cynical survivor who finds it hard to trust, to the most naïve person who falls into bed with a man she hasn’t seen in years and shares every thought she has with another who she follows into the middle of nowhere despite his sudden detailed knowledge about parts of her past she has never shared.
It all just left me feeling disappointed, with the final reveal and ending like a betrayal of Blue’s character and the support networks she had. Such a shame.