The Maidens by Alex Michaelides
“After all, everyone’s entitled to be the hero of their own story. So I must be permitted to be the hero of mine. Even though I’m not. I’m the villain.”
I don’t know about you, but by the time I flip my calendar to September, I consider fall to be in full swing. As I switch over to my burnt orange duvet cover, light a candle with a name like “autumn hayride,” and ignore the fact that it’s still 70 degrees and sunny out, I feel the pull to read books full of old mansions, cults, killers, and spooky vibes. This year, Alex Michaelides‘ The Maidens was the first on my frighteningly high stack of fall reads.
Michaelides’ last novel, The Silent Patient, was an instant success back in 2019.
The kind of book you stay up until three in the morning to finish while tucked away in a cozy bed with your dog or cat to help you feel safe. Opening up The Maidens, I hoped to have a similar experience.
Much like Michaelides’ highly praised previous novel, The Maidens‘ protagonist is a London-based psychotherapist. Mariana Andros is a successful but anguished group therapist whose husband tragically drowned 14 months ago. The opening of the novel focuses primarily on Mariana’s grief and her work, which I found immediately captivating. I was pulled into the story even further when our troubled protagonist receives a frantic call from her niece, Zoe, explaining that there’s been a murder at her university.
Mariana rushes to Zoe’s campus at Cambridge University to offer emotional support but is quickly drawn into the investigation as a second murder occurs, and she is entangled in the mystery of the killer’s identity.
Mariana’s main suspect is the handsome classics professor named Edward Fosca.
Fosca leads a secret society of female students called “The Maidens.” The murder victims have all been a part of this secret society, and when Mariana discovers that each of these victims received postcards before their murder with quotes from the texts taught in Fosca’s class, she becomes convinced of his guilt. Mariana’s obsession quickly spirals out of control, earning her a few enemies and putting her in grave danger.
Michaelides introduces a handful of suspicious characters throughout the novel; most are a bit too cheesy or a bit too obvious. The story is missing a complex, interesting red herring that would have made this read truly spectacular for me. Much of the dialogue was also lacking regarding the banter between Mariana and Fosco. What was meant to feel sexy and dangerous ended up bland and cringey.
The dark academic setting, along with the many heartbreaking insights into grief and the effect it can have on an individual, made The Maidens well worth the read. However, I’d warn against any high expectations set by The Silent Patient. Although the protagonists appear similar, the novels themselves differ significantly.
The Maidens accomplished the most important thing I ask of any murder mystery.
I was miles away from guessing the ending. Michaelides did a fantastic job with making the final reveal believable as, looking back, the clues were there. I’d be excited to hear if any of you guessed correctly!
If you don’t already own a copy of The Maidens, order one from Bookshop Benicia to enjoy while wrapped up in a knitted blanket, sipping your autumn cocktail/mocktail. These drinks would also pair well with an escape room or murder mystery game for your next night in with friends!
The Murdered Maiden
A autumnal take on the Trinidad Sour
- 1 ½ ounces Cardamom Bitters
- ½ ounce Rye Whiskey
- ¾ ounce Lemon Juice
- 1 ounce Orgeat
- Lemon Twist
- Add the bitters, whiskey, lemon juice, and orgeat to a shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds.
- Strain into a chilled Nick and Nora glass (appropriate for any murder mystery).
- Garnish with a lemon twist and enjoy!
Detective’s All-Nighter Mocktail
- 2 ounces Seedlip Spice 94 (can be bought at Bevmo or online)
- 2 ounces Cold Brew Concentrate
- ½ ounce Simple Syrup
- Add Spice 94, cold brew concentrate, and simple syrup to a shaker with ice and shake for 10 seconds.
- Strain into a coupe glass.
- Garnish with a coffee bean and get to work solving that murder!