The It Girl by Ruth Ware: A review
The setting is Oxford, always a great place for a mystery. As a student there, the first person that Hannah Jones meets is April Coutts-Cliveden, a vivacious and charismatic girl who pulls everyone she meets into her orbit. She is Hannah's roommate.
April and Hannah - mostly April - develop a circle of friends during their first term at the school. Will, Hugh, Ryan, and Emily along with April and Hannah become devoted to each other and inseparable. April, though, has a dark side and by the end of their second term, April is dead. She was murdered in their room.
Hannah is convinced that the only person who could have gone up the staircase to their room, unobserved, was the porter, John Neville, and she so testifies. Mostly on the basis of her testimony, Neville is convicted and sent to prison. There was no other evidence against him and there was no apparent motive for the crime.
Fast forward ten years. Hannah has married Will and they are living in Edinburg and expecting their first baby. Neville is still proclaiming his innocence and is still in prison. Then word comes that he has died there. But in the meantime, a journalist had been taking another look at the case and is convinced that Neville was, in fact, innocent.
All this time, Hannah had harbored some doubts about Neville's guilt, in spite of the fact that she had seen him coming down the staircase just before she discovered April's body. Now she is in full-blown guilty conscience mode, feeling that perhaps she made a mistake and doomed an innocent man. Will insists that she should move on and forget the whole thing, but that isn't going to happen. She feels the need to revisit what happened that night and get at the truth.
Ruth Ware does an excellent job of describing the dual settings and timelines - first in Oxford and then ten years later in Edinburg. She also does an excellent job of making us feel Hannah's angst and guilt when she comes to understand that she may have been instrumental in convicting the wrong person of her friend's murder, allowing the true guilty party to go free. She skillfully constructs the framework that leads to a surprising denouement and a twist on the expected outcome. I confess I never really saw it coming. An excellent summer read.