The Maidens from Alex Michaelides is an erudite, binge-worthy mystery. Set in Cambridge, England among ivy-covered buildings many centuries old, it draws from Greek tragedy and mythology. But the murders at the story’s heart are definitely in the here and now. It’s also a cautionary tale about the power narcissistic men have over young women, especially if they’re also in positions of authority.
Our main character is a thirty-something Greek-English widow, Mariana. Her husband died not long ago in a tragic accident, and she’s still getting her footing back. As a group psychologist, she usually understands people. But the events in her own life have left her feeling raw, so she also questions her instincts.
When her niece calls from college in Cambridge with news of the frightening events, Mariana rushes to her aid. Based on a few conversations, she is drawn to a young, charismatic American professor as the possible culprit. Her primary concern is the group of young students he teaches, aptly named The Maidens around campus. In the process, Mariana manages to embroil herself in a murder investigation, even though the authorities question her intuition.
The Maidens is a highly literate mystery. Michaelides points to Ancient Greek texts, even including them verbatim. He tells parts of the mythology of Demeter and Persephone, also known as the Maiden. And he teaches about the rituals Ancient Greeks practiced in honor of these goddesses. Given all that, the tone might seem professorial. But thankfully it’s not.
Michaelides knows how to structure a plot and dole out clues to his readers. He delves into the psychology and behavior of The Maidens, Mariana and her niece, the professor, and even a few more minor characters.
Overall, the plot is plausible. Despite the prevalence of #MeToo, men still manipulate impressionable young women. And older women are understandably mistrustful of the motivation behind such actions. I also thought the ending included a decent but not earth-shattering twist. For me, it didn’t quite compare to the author’s first book, which shocked me.
I have one factual bone to pick with Michaelides. A smaller supporting male character is a Sikh. Unfortunately, the author fails to follow the correct naming conventions for Sikh men. While this error isn’t germane to the story, it annoyed me every time I saw the character’s last name mentioned. I’m all for authors being inclusive. But they and their editors also need to take one moment and learn about the culture they are referencing, no matter how briefly.
Many thanks to Celadon Books and the author for an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for this honest review.