“Girls Like Us” by Cristina Alger is told by Nell Flynn in a first person present tense narrative that creates a sense of urgency and importance. The book starts slowly as Flynn, on leave from the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit, travels home to Suffolk County, New York after her father, a member of the Suffolk County Police Department, dies in a motorcycle accident. Readers see everything Flynn sees, hear everything she says to people, and hear everything people say to her. She shares what she discovers and what she thinks about those discoveries. Readers get to know Flynn well. “I like moving around. I like the solitude of working on the road, and the challenge of doing it in sparse working conditions.”
If burying her father, recovering from her on-the-job injuries, and dealing with “the inheritance” were not enough, a cop friend reports, “Something happened early this morning, out in Shinnecock County Park. A woman walking her dog found a body. A girl, buried in the dunes.” This death seems too similar to a case her dad was investigating to be a coincidence. Who is murdering girls amid multimillion‑dollar oceanfront mansions? If this is the work of a meticulous, seasoned, serial killer, there are likely other victims. She asks to “consult” on the case since she is still on leave from the FBI. The investigation proceeds in an orderly fashion with interviews, DNA collection, timelines, clues, but there are many pieces to this puzzle, and none of them seem to fit. The more she investigates, the more complicated the case becomes; this troubles her. “I have a bad feeling…Everyone who touches this investigation ends up dead.” Flynn is driven to solve these two murders “It’s about Adriana and Ria. These are girls like us. I want people to know their names. I want to know who killed them. They deserve that, at least.”
Alger describes the geography of the region in such detail that the place itself is a character. “The dune grass grows high and unruly. In places, it comes up past my knees, nearly brushing my hips. Overhead, seagulls circle, dropping crabs onto the rocks to crack open the shells. One swoops off with a whole fish in its claws, victorious. I take a deep breath, filling my lungs with fresh salt air.”
Readers can follow along on Google maps, finding Flynn’s familiar places: Dune road, Shinnecock County Park, Pine Barrens, Ponquogue Bridge and the Starbucks in Hampton Bays. One can even zoom in and see boats on the Peconic River.
“Girls Like Us” builds slowly, event by event, progressively becoming more complicated until the dramatic and tragic end. I was given a review copy of “Girls Like Us” from Cristina Alger, G. P. Putnam’s Sons Publishers, and Penguin Random House. The deliberately slow start established Flynn’s character, and the action, suspense, and surprises kept me turning the pages.