CBR5 Review #14: Girl Afraid by Ciarán West

[An old review initially posted in 2013 on the Cannonball Read site, but never made it here]

I received this book for free through the Cannonball Read several weeks ago. It took me that long to get through it, which really says a lot since I can usually finish a book in a few days. Everyday I would check the CBR5 page to see if anyone had reviewed the book as yet. I needed to know if I was crazy for thoroughly disliking the book, with each page getting worse and worse. I expected this book to be great, as West’s debut was apparently very well-liked (I started it but moved on to something else). As I mentioned in my previous review of a free book (Cinderella’s Secret Diary), I hate to give negative reviews when an author is generous enough to share his or her work with us and to be so vulnerable as to be okay with any thoughts we may have. Alas, I can not say anything good about Girl Afraid. From Amazon, the plot description is below:

Poppy Riley is missing. The man who has her wants no ransom, has made no contact with her family, and has no intention to do so. His plan for Poppy is far more sinister. In a locked room, somewhere in London, the ten year girl old sits and wonders how she came to be there.

Alice wakes up to a call from Frank. He is not a friend, but he knows everything about her. He is not a kidnapper, but he knows how to get Poppy back. The worst day of her life has already started, and he is her only guide through the horror. She knows she cannot trust him, but time is running out.

All over the capital, several men are waiting for confirmation that everything has gone according to plan. Strangers to each other, they are tied by a common interest. An interest in Poppy.

Alice and Frank have less than twenty-four hours to save her. Come and spend it with them. And keep telling yourself: ‘It’s only a book. It’s only a book…’

There are so many problems with this book, I don’t even know where to start. Major spoilers below, so don’t continue unless you want to know!

I guess I will start with the characters. The only sort of sympathetic character is Poppy, the 10-year-old kidnapped to be part of a child-porn video. Her father is apparently a favorite actor and the media is obsessed with this “gorgeous child.” I say “apparently” because we get nothing about him and at some point Poppy says he is on a “rig” which usually implies oilman.. who knows, to be honest. Alice is Poppy’s father’s assistant and sometimes caretaker for Poppy. The treatment of Alice is one of the most misogynistic I’ve ever seen (and yet, just mildly irritating, not even enough to incense or inspire any emotional reaction). Not surprisingly, Frank turns out to be a not-so-good guy and of course he then rapes Alice.

The male characters are also awful – every one of them either a woman-hater, child-molester, or loser. Only Poppy’s handler appears to be decent, and he’s just a hired thug with a long murder rapsheet (hey, but at least he’s not interested in molesting little girls). Alice’s boyfriend is a major character for some reason I can not fathom. He spends 75% of his scenes wandering around London, eating fried chicken, getting drunk, talking to hobos about love, and peeing at least twice (both times talking about how much he hates when men pee next to him)… thrilling stuff. His inclusion makes no sense, adds nothing to the story, and is terribly boring.

The men involved in the child-porn tape are just as bad. To make things worse they all have generic names (i.e., Bob, Bill, Harry, Henry, Don, and Rick) so it is impossible to keep track of them (especially as the story bounces between Alice, Poppy, boyfriend, and each of these men’s perspectives… there are at least 8 perspectives, none lasting more than 5 pages).

The storyline has some potential but just continues to devolve in to something that is meaningless  and utterly uninteresting. Rather than having this be an exploration of motive, guilt, shame, morality, immorality, or anything that would make sense and be thought-provoking given the plotline, West instead focuses on just providing us a blow-by-blow account of each person’s day leading up to the planned rape of little Poppy.  It’s all talk, movement and random “action” without any heart or consequence. The characters are kept separate for the majority of the book and it really suffers for their lack of interaction, resulting in one of the least compelling climaxes ever (seriously? How did the Albanians get involved in the climax?). My guess is that West sought to deal with some shocking material, but simply didn’t know what to do with it. The real shame I think is that the writing style was so pedestrian that I wasn’t even shocked despite the material at hand, just bored.

Again, I feel like I must be crazy because everything on Goodreads and Amazon describes this book as thrilling and edge-of-the-seat and I found it so incredibly disposable. I am hoping someone else reads this one soon so I can get a second/third opinion!

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