Fans of Alex Michaelides’ blockbuster debut The Silent Patient will eagerly dive into his newest thriller, The Maidens, which will immerse them in the world of Mariana Andros, a 36-year-old group therapist living in London and mourning the strange drowning of her husband Sebastian a year ago in Greece. (Mariana trained alongside Theo Faber, the criminal psychotherapist who unraveled the strange case of Alicia Berenson in Michaelides’ debut, and he makes an appearance or two here.)
Mariana is still overwhelmed by her grief when she is suddenly called to her alma mater, Cambridge University, after her niece Zoe’s friend is murdered. Mariana and Sebastian raised Zoe, whose parents died in a car accident. The distraught girl shares that her late friend, Tara, was part of a group of university students known as “The Maidens,” who are all devoted to their dashing American professor of Greek tragedy, Edward Fosca. The police have arrested a suspect, but Zoe proclaims his innocence. Mariana quickly gets swept up in the case, and soon is on the track of a serial killer as more Maidens are murdered. Each time, a strange postcard with a Greek quotation from a classical tragedy is found in the victim's rooms, and Mariana becomes increasingly convinced that the arrogant Fosca is the murderer.
Michaelides’ page turner cleverly weaves together Mariana’s difficult and haunted past, her group therapy patients, Greek mythology and the increasing local tension as more girls are killed. He makes excellent use of the Cambridge University setting, with its Gothic architecture, traditions and hierarchy of students, professors and staff. As clues emerge and danger grows, Mariana becomes more and more sure of her sleuthing, although frustrated readers may often want to shake her and point her in other directions. A particularly needy patient named Henry seems obsessed with her. And then there’s Fred, a physics student whom Mariana meets on the train, who has fallen in love with her and keeps popping up—perhaps as friend, perhaps as foe.
The Maidens is a well-paced, suspenseful and easy-to-digest thriller. The Greek tragedy aspect is intriguing and Michaelides explains the mythology, so there’s no need to brush up beforehand. Be forewarned, however: There’s a supremely unsettling, sure-to-be-divisive twist at the end of this cliffhanger.