An Anonymous Girl is a suspenseful thriller that succeeds fully in creating a fast-moving story that keeps us reading. Jess is a twenty-something makeup artist struggling in New York City who eagerly jumps at an opportunity for some fast cash. I mean, how much can go wrong answering some questions for a professor doing a study on ethics and morality. But when the professor takes the research from the laptop to real-world experiments, things get dicey and Jess begins to wonder if there might be some ulterior motives.
There sure are! And we learn about them sooner than Jess because the narration goes back and forth between her and the professor, Dr. Lydia Shields, a privileged, wealthy psychologist who needs to change out her artwork for some “Physician, heal thyself” needlepoint. In many ways, Shields takes on some god-like qualities, omniscient and omnipotent. Her wealth and the knowledge gleaned from the questionnaires combined with her expertise make for an unlevel playing field in what comes to be a true battle of wills as Lydia’s true purpose and diabolical methods come to light.
What does Jess have on her side? Grit and stubbornness and perhaps the fortitude that comes from being needed, truly needed by her family, her parents and her sister. She can’t take give in, they need her.
I liked An Anonymous Girl much more than the first well-received and very popular “The Wife Between Us” by the writing duo of Hendricks and Pekkanen. Frankly, I disliked that book so much I didn’t write a review because it made me too angry with an end-of-the-book cop-out involving a character’s sibling. The writing, however, was propulsive so I gave them a second chance. I am glad I did because An Anonymous Girl is better.
In An Anonymous Girl the man whose weak fecklessness sets Dr. Shields in motion doesn’t get his bad behavior excused as the result of some woman making him weak and feckless. He’s a louche cheating cad and no one makes him one. This is not a spoiler. We find out quite early he’s a cheater. He gets to own being a faithless coward. So, this is already a hundred times better than their other book.
Because the point of view of both Jess and Lydia move in concert, we know more than Jess and that makes us question her wisdom a few times. Of course, she’s thinking she’s lucky to have found a way to make some easy extra money, but you know, she has a short encounter with an addict whose suspicious animosity and suspicious, “There’s no free lunch.” was wiser than it may appear in the moment.
If you like suspenseful stories with smart (mostly) women with gaping flaws, you will probably enjoy An Anonymous Girl.
An Anonymous Girl comes out January 8th. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.
- An Anonymous Girl at St. Martin’s Press | Macmillan
- Greer Hendricks author site
- Sarah Pekkanen author site