With Malice by Eileen Cook. Bonnier Publishing, June 2016
18-year-old Jill wakes up in a hospital with a badly broken leg and a huge gap in her memory. Her parents tell her that was in a car accident, and it happened on her much anticipated school sponsored trip to Italy. What they don’t tell her right away is that her best friend Simone died in the crash, and the Italian authorities believe that Jill planned to kill her friend.
Jill is devastated, and while she protests her innocence, she is tried in the court of public opinion and found guilty by most. Simone’s parents have turned against her, and everything she has ever done or said is dissected on social media. Many of her classmates and other students on the trip leap at the opportunity to be part of the drama, even to point of fudging the truth to sound more connected and important.
Not only is she trying to cope with all this, she also faces pressure from the hotshot lawyer her wealthy father hired to spin her image from potential murderer to potential victim. Jill is angry at this because it seems to presume her guilt, and truth should be enough–but is it? She struggles to regain her memory of the accident, but there is always the possibility that her brain may use suggestions to create false memories. Furthermore, the narrative is first person, underlining the potential unreliability of the narrator.
Cook not only gives the reader a detailed portrait of Jill but also presents a lot of information about Simone, who comes across as manipulative and sneaky. She lies glibly and often hides behind Jill, allowing her to take the blame. The revelations about Simone makes the girls’ relationship even more complex, and it is clear that they are in conflict on the trip. The plot is nail-bitingly suspenseful as the story cuts from Jill to associated police reports, e-mail messages, and social media posts, right up to the resolution. Readers who enjoy psychological suspense novels will want to add this to their to-read list.
[Received a copy of the title from Netgalley.com in return for a review.]