Ragged Alice is a murder mystery with a supernatural twist, following a detective as she tries to solve a number of gruesome murders in her sleepy hometown. The book follows a whodunnit approach, revealing past ties from our protagonist and the shady dealings of the town’s past military base. It’s entertaining from start to finish, filled with strange townsfolk who see ghosts, speak strange premonitions, and are constantly up in everyone’s business.
I’m a huge fan of Powell (see here and here and here) and his writing continues to be top notch in this new direction from his typical fare. The supernatural elements stay on the periphery for most of the book, popping up when least expected and consistently furthering the mystery. The real strength of the book lie in the intimate character work with the protagonist. We get to know her well, slowly learning about her family’s past tragedies and her unexplained abilities to read people’s auras. Instead of focusing on her power, Powell focuses on what makes her tick, creating a personal connection that grows until the end. I’m always looking for that special kind of character piece, and this fits the bill.
As mysteries go, Ragged Alice is strong. The small town setting is played to masterful effect as these mysterious killings continue to spread. Connections are made and broken, suspects come and go, and in the end, the solution is both surprising and fascinating. Powell’s mastery of establishing setting is key, showing us the many little details of small town life and the surrounding area. We get to know the pubs and streets, the rundown houses and the ominous woods where tragedies happened so long ago. Coupled with his focus on creating strong characters, it makes for a book that feels personal.
As a quick note, I absolutely loved the character of Mrs. Phillips. She’s fun and hilarious, marching around this small town in gowns and high heels at the young age of ninety-two. We catch glimpses of her exotic past, filled with lovers, parties and zero regrets. I’m confident we’d be best friends if I ever got the chance to meet her.
In the end, Ragged Alice is a great mix of genres, giving us the suspense of a mystery, the fascination of a fantasy and the mild terror of the supernatural. Powell’s supreme writing is on display in every carefully crafted paragraph, giving us a story that’s enticing and entertaining until the very end.
By Gareth L. Powell
NOTE: I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.