After the mysterious disappearance of a toddler, past events involving siblings Laurel and Primrose resurface. Our arts contributor, Ishita Ranjan, reviews Alice Clark-Platts’ gripping crime thriller, The Flower Girls.
It’s the summer of 1997. In a small town to the north of the UK, three young girls go out to play in the woods. They explore in and amongst the trees, calling to the make-believe fairies that live in the little dell, under buttercups and snowdrops, hiding away from the afternoon sun. What’s about to take place, however, is a series of events that will irrevocably change the lives of these little girls – at least, for the two that live.
Laurel and Primrose, Primrose and Laurel. Two sisters whose lives are inextricably linked by their sibling bond, their childhood games, and by being the only two people to witness what happened that day in the woods. The day that led to the murder of a toddler, an entire community reeling in shock, a family distraught and the press chasing down every twist and turn. After that summer’s day in 1997, one sister is convicted for murder, and the other is given a new identity.
Nineteen years later, on New Year’s Eve, another little girl goes missing – this time from a hotel on the coast of Devon. A panicked hunt for a missing child and another family distraught. Despite time having passed and a difference of location, the parallels cannot be ignored. When a guest at the hotel happens to be one of the Flower Girls, it is only a matter of time before the past catches up with the present.
The story of The Flower Girls travels all the way from a summer’s day in 1997 in a small town up North, to a bitingly cold New Year’s Day in Devon. Alternating chapters in the book slowly unravel the events of that day as the hunt for the missing child continues along the coastline.
Whilst Laurel and Primrose have been separated since the conviction, The Flower Girls is an exploration into the darkest depths of sibling rivalries and the incidents that forge them. It is a story of a bond that no amount of physical distance or time can change, for better for worse. Both Laurel and Primrose are complex women with complex histories – sometimes toxic, sometimes relatable. Alice Clark-Platts unravels these layers page by page, intertwining the lives of the sisters with the hunt for the missing child, a story where the past straddles the present – and neither is pretty.
Alongside Laurel and Primrose, Clark-Platts presents an array of complex and nuanced characters that stand out in a complicated plot. There is the Aunt of the murdered toddler who runs a legal campaigning agency and thrives in her own pain and self-destruction; the police officer struggling with boundary issues despite her determination; the frantic mother with a lost child and an unhappy marriage. The Flower Girls offers us a far more accurate and nuanced representation of women than most crime thrillers of a similar genre.
Clark-Platts also explores broader issues beyond the central plot. Set against a backdrop of press frenzy and a flawed criminal justice system, the book looks into the issues that surround society’s collective understanding of criminal events. The Flower Girls particularly draws our attention to the flawed memory of the media and the biases of the public consciousness. It dives into society’s ability to think critically when it comes to the crimes that terrify us the most, and the battle for restorative justice given the inability for such crimes to be either forgotten or forgiven.
The Flower Girls begins with an idyllic setting, but it quickly veers into darker territories. With one child already dead and another missing, one sister behind bars and another desperate to prove something, it is a book which leaves you turning the pages, more and more curious with each one.
Alice Clark-Platts’ The Flower Girls is published by Bloomsbury imprint, Raven Books, and will be available to purchase online and in book stores from the 24th January. HB price £12.99. EB price £8.63. For more information or to purchase the book, click here.