I’ve been in terrible reading slump combined with a post-Thanksgiving food coma (and pure unadulterated laziness) since I finished Esperanza Rising, and have DNF’d 4 or 5 books. But then I picked up this one, and everything changed. Pretty Wicked is a perfect horror read for Hallowe’en, but you better have a strong stomach.
Ryann is 15 years old and living in the small town of Dungrave, Colorado. She is a straight A student, a top cheerleader, blond, pretty, and popular. Her father is a police officer. She is also a sociopath and a serial killer. She has spent all her free time since she was about 8 years old planning the perfect murder. And now it is finally time. And what a rush.
But she can’t stop at one. Because Ryann wants to be one of The Greats. She wants to be one of those killers of whom people speak with gruesome relish and reverent hushed tones. She wants to be one of the ones that never gets caught and leaves a legacy of fear and terror. She loves to hear people talk about what she has done, although she wishes they could know who is responsible.
Can the perfect 15 year old pull off the perfect crime spree?
The characters in this novel are unusual, to say the least.
The vast majority of the book is told from Ryann’s point of view. But being inside her mind is both terrifying and fascinating, and it actually feels wrong at times to be in her head and be unable to stop her actions. The psychology behind the acts is mind-bogglingly addictive to read about, the thought process is abhorrent, but reading this book is somewhat akin to driving slowly past a car wreck on the highway. It was impossible to put down, even as the sane part of my brain was telling me to stop.
Ryann is the perfect daughter and the perfect friend. Popular and friendly, but truly remote and a loner. She keeps her distance, both physically and mentally, from everyone, but no one really sees it. She works hard to make her parents proud, and loves them, but also secretly looks down on them. Her mother is a diner waitress, and her father doesn’t know he has a killer living in his house. Ryann believes that she is smarter than everyone.
The surrounding characters are as well developed and psychologically intense as Ryann. Best friend Bao-yu has her own quirks and excesses and is the perfect foil for Ryann. “B” is a gamer and spends hours online with a like-minded group, giving Ryann the chance to be the social and popular one in their relationship, and control their times together. Lucas and Asad both lead the reader on a bit of a wild-goose chase as the story develops and Ryann starts to feel the net closing around her.
Dad is a perfectionist – she gets 97 on an exam, and he asks what happened to the other 3. It is subtle yet profound pressure to be perfect, and Ryann has a deep desire to best her father. He, the well-respected cop, the solver of crimes, has a daughter committing the most heinous of murders right beneath his nose, and he has no idea.
The POV jumps just a couple of times, from Ryann to Detective Estevez. It was jarring, but good. Estevez is a textbook cop, toeing the line and lacking in humour. But he can see what Ryann’s dad doesn’t, the lack of soul in Ryann’s eyes, the ego that longs to be recognized, the horror that lies beneath.
And Officer Knox. I did NOT see that coming.
Author Kelly Charron places the reader right in the mind of a twisted teenager and explores the psychology underlying her actions. Was Ryann born that way, or did something happen to trigger the behaviour? She doesn’t come from a broken home or tough circumstances, she isn’t abused. She has a good upbringing, is an A student, head cheerleader, well-liked, familiar, and normal. But she is pure evil.
She is a fabulous villain. Perfectly written.
Obviously, the reader knows who the killer is right from the start. But there are twists and turns to the investigation right up until the end. Will she be caught, or will she be one of The Greats and get away with everything? The second half of the book is extremely intense and suspenseful; as Ryann starts to make mistakes and struggles to correct them I found myself unwillingly rooting for her. And I’m not sure why. She is without emotion or empathy, she takes pleasure in pain, and yet I held my breath every time she was interviewed or evidence was discovered.
This is a psychological thriller with unexpected moments of dark comedy. It has extremely graphic and violent content, and is probably more appropriate for the upper end of the YA range. And any adult who doesn’t mind sleeping with the lights on.
Pretty Wicked was published September 30th, 2016 by Dark Arts Publishing.