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Saturday 16 March 2019

‘The Anonymous Girl’ by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

Published (HB) by Macmillan
7 February 2019.
ISBN: 978-1-52901071-8
(TPB) 978-1-52901-972-5.

The first book by American duo Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen was The Wife Between Us – smart, with a high-concept structure that I thoroughly enjoyed, so I was very much looking forward to their second offering, An Anonymous Girl, which is different, but just as intriguing.

The book begins with an advert: ‘Seeking women aged 18 to 32 to participate in a study on ethics and orality…Generous compensation. Anonymity guaranteed.’

Jessica Farris, a struggling make-up artist who needs money fast, signs up for the psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr Shields. She thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions on a computer, collect her money and leave. But the questions become more intense, more searching, more invasive, and Jess begins to feel Dr Shields knows what she is thinking – and what she is hiding. As Jess’s paranoia grows, she can’t trust what in her life is real and what is one of Dr Shields’ manipulative experiments.

I have to say, An Anonymous Girl is a slow-burner, but I didn’t want to put it down because the premise is so intriguing, and the characters certainly got their hooks into me. The story is fresh, different and addictive, crackling with suppressed menace. It’s about doubt. About passion. About deadly obsession. It’s told from two points of view: that of Jessica, a sympathetic heroine, complex and decent but definitely flawed, and from that of Dr Shields, cold, controlling and disturbing.

If you like your psychological suspense a little different from the norm, then this one is definitely for you. And just to leave you with food for thought. Throughout the novel, Jess is faced with moral dilemmas and questions. Here are two of them:

Can you tell a lie without feeling guilt?
Do victims have the right to take retribution into their own hands?

How would you answer?
Reviewer: Mary-Jane Riley

Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen's prolific editor-author relationship began in 2010 with Pekkanen's debut novel, The Opposite of Me.  
The two women formed an instant connection, which grew into a close friendship while Hendricks edited six more of Pekkanen's novels, the latest being The Perfect Neighbors (2016). Hendricks joined Simon & Schuster in 1994 as an assistant editor at Scribner Books. In 1996 she began working at Pocket Books and Washington Square Press. During her tenure at Simon & Schuster, Hendricks helped to discover and edit numerous writers including Jennifer Weiner, Stephen Chbosky, and Pekkanen. In 2001, she helped launch Atria Books, which acquired The Opposite of Me.
When Hendricks left the publishing company in 2014, she told only a few people, including Pekkanen, that she wanted to write a novel. Pekkanen, who had written everything from investigative newspaper series and magazine features to short stories, was eager to challenge herself. She believed collaborating with Hendricks on a novel could help her grow creatively.  Hendricks was briefly hesitant. "When Sarah approached me about writing together, I initially worried it would be copping out to work with someone else," Hendricks explains, "that it would be less of an accomplishment." But the former editor called Pekkanen 12 hours later and said, "Let's do it!" "I realized it would be crazy to turn down this opportunity," Hendricks says. "While I had published a few personal essays and edited hundreds of books, I knew I had a lot to learn about writing an actual novel." Pekkanen was confident the two could create something special together. "Not only do we share strikingly similar narrative instincts and approaches to storytelling, but we get along beautifully as friends," she says. And so, began the process of writing The Wife Between Us.

Mary-Jane Riley wrote her first story on her newly acquired blue Petite typewriter, when she was eight. When she grew up, she had to earn a living and became a BBC radio talk show presenter and journalist. She has covered many life-affirming stories, but also some of the darkest events of the past two decades. Then, in true journalistic style, she decided not to let the facts get in the way of a good story and got creative. She wrote for women's magazines and small presses. She formed WriteOutLoud with two writer friends to help charities get their message across using their life stories. Now she is writing crime thrillers drawing on her experiences in journalism. Her third book set in East Anglia and featuring investigative journalist Alex.  Dark Waters was published by Harper Collins/Killer Reads in March 2018.

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