This book grabbed me from the get go! When I heard the setting was a juvenile detention center full of teenage killers I knew I had to read it…what does that say about me?? A little background about me so you know why I HAD to read this book…while studying criminology in college, I did an entire research project on kids who kill and went to a juvenile detention center that housed them and spent the day observing and interviewing staff. Fascinating stuff and what I learned and observed has stayed with me all these years later I can tell you. It’s disturbing subject matter to say the least and this book shines a light on the topic like none other I’ve read.
To start, the prologue introduces us to a character who very soon will have his whole world destroyed and his life turned upside down. It’s tense, shocking and pretty stomach turning and you just know after reading it you’re in for a wild ride. Shifting locations, we arrive at Starling House, the home of Britain’s most dangerous child killers. There, we are given a glimpse into where these young murderers spend their years before adult prison. It’s a creepy, eerie place to say the least and it’s run by a woman named Kate who has devoted her life and career to running Starling House and managing a house full of killers. When one of her charges is found murdered after being locked in his room at night, questions surface as to what’s really going on at Starling…who can be trusted when you’ve got a literal room full of killers?
DCI Matilda Darke and her team are called in to investigate and we soon learn that she’s coming into the investigation with quite a lot of her own personal baggage. She often seems scattered and slightly on edge, especially when it comes to investigating child killers. When one of them takes her by surprise in his interview, she jumps to a pretty quick conclusion that he’s innocent of murder and sets about to proving that, on top of also investigating the recent murder of the boy within Starling. This development left me a little puzzled as to her competency because she was with this boy for just a few minutes before she declared her “intuition” to have told her he was innocent. I’m not sure I could picture a detective reacting like that. Overall, it left me wondering but I went with it.
Matilda and her staff have quite a bit of ground to cover in their attempts to determine how a boy who was locked in his room at night as ALL the boys were…locks only open from the outside…could have been murdered in the Rec room? Through interviews with the boys and interactions with each other we really get to know Matilda and her team and this is where the book shined for me because I loved these characters! I thought the dialogue was outstanding and the use of humor throughout really helped to lighten the very dark subject matter. These people were witty and you just felt like you were sitting amongst them as they chatted and teased each other. I especially liked Rory and Sian.
Along with the fantastic dialogue and eerie setting, I thought the linear structure and alternating perspectives for each chapter made for a quick pace. The chapters wrote from the perspective of each boy as he details his murder(s) are chilling… so be prepared to be disgusted, uncomfortable, angered and saddened as each boy details his crimes. What makes it even worse…these could all be and have been “ripped from the headlines” types of stories. It’s so hard to comprehend and that’s one reason I liked Rory so much…he wanted so badly to understand what made these kids kill, but is there ever really a legitimate answer? Nature vs Nurture? I’ll finish by saying my detective skills were partially right on a tiny piece of this puzzle but by no means did I have the ‘whodunit’ or the why figured out. And then.. just when you think it’s all coming to a nice, smooth resolution, the author pulls a final trick out of his hat with that ending and all I could think was WOW…I DID NOT see that coming!!
**This is actually book 3 in the series but can be read as a standalone, just be aware that some spoilers from the previous books are included**