In The Maidens, Mariana Andros is a group therapist who perhaps should heed Luke’s advice as a physician to heal herself. Still mourning the loss of her husband, her group is festering with one patient who clearly has become obsessed with her. Perhaps it is an escape from mourning and mounting troubles with her group that makes her grasp the opportunity to play amateur sleuth when her niece’s friend is murdered in Oxford.

Zoe, her niece whom she and her husband raised after Mariana’s sister and brother-in-law died in a car accident, is certain the suspect arrested by police is innocent. Zoe claims the murderer is the flamboyant Edward Fosca, a professor of Greek Tragedy. Seeing how Fosca has surrounded himself with a group of acolytes called The Maidens, Mariana is also convinced of Fosca’s guilt. After another murder, she is even more certain.

The Maidens is a compelling mystery. Alex Michaelides presents an excellent example of cognitive bias as Mariana sees what fits her assumptions and does not perceive any challenges to it. As a detective, she is rash, stubborn, and slow to question her assumptions. Presented with facts that contradict her assessment, she comes up with more complicated schemes to keep Fosca in the frame. When the real murderer is revealed, the person is less shocking than the motivation. Frankly, I was still wondering at the end if we really got the whole truth or a version of it.

The story was full of suspense and I read it in two fast bites. Given how difficult sustained reading has been since COVID, I was thrilled to stay engaged. Michaelides creates a powerful sense of place at Oxford and compelling characters, particularly with Mariana, Fosca, and Zoe.

Interestingly, The Maidens connects to Michaelides’ first book, preceding it in time as Mariana consults Theo briefly and then tells him about the job he takes at the beginning of The Silent Patient.

The Maidens will be published on June 15th. I received an ARC from the publisher through Shelf Awareness.