Alex Michaelides’ The Silent Patient enjoyed more than a year on the NYT bestseller list for good reason. The thriller offered a deep look at intriguing characters united by a haunting mystery that culminated in a fantastic twist. Only fair, then, to assume his follow-up, The Maidens would dazzle in equal measure. I’m happy to report that–mostly–it does.
Mariana Andros runs group therapy sessions in her London home, helping the mentally ill on the road to recovery. Through the past year, group therapy has offered her a way to keep her mind off the untimely death of her husband, Sebastian. But tragedy strikes again when Mariana’s niece, Zoe, calls to report that her friend Tara has been murdered in Cambridge. Mariana rushes to Zoe’s aid and is quickly enmeshed in a whirlwind of suspicious characters. The primary target of her suspicions? Edward Fosca, an American professor who has an undeniably off relationship with a few select women studying under him. Mariana’s obsession with Fosca’s guilt sends her on a downward spiral that could put her–and those she loves–in mortal danger.
Having read both The Silent Patient and The Maidens this year, I’ve come to deeply appreciate Michaelides’ writing. He crafts characters that feel distinct, each with their own goals and motives. It’s easy to feel for the characters and resent them simultaneously. He highlights the good and the bad equally. Fosca is a prime example here. He’s clearly a gifted and bright young professor, as shown when Mariana attends one of his lectures and finds herself moved by his speech. But he’s also clearly hiding something sinister, and Michaelides carefully doles out information that ensures readers won’t settle on one side or the other until he’s ready.
The pacing, too, is reminiscent of Michaelides’ first book, though The Maidens takes a little while to reach top speed. 70-80 pages in, the switch flipped for me and I read the rest of the book in a matter of hours. The psychological thriller genre serves as an excellent playground for Michaelides, and I thoroughly enjoyed letting his work take hold of my brain for a few hours.
The Maidens steps up the game in terms of setting compared to The Silent Patient. The latter focused on a psychiatric hospital and the main character’s home to serviceable effect. But The Maidens paints a wonderful picture of Cambridge. I often reread passages describing the setting for no other reason than to revel in the prose.
And then, of course, there’s the plot, And what a plot it is. Michaelides makes dark, tragic, terrifying mysteries fun to read, and I can’t commend him enough for the skillful way he crafts this riddle. I was entranced by Michaelides’ ability to waltz between his red herrings, dropping little clues at the proper beats, even occasionally changing perspectives. To dive any deeper would risk spoiler territory, and I’m sure you’d much rather follow the steps yourself with the confident author leading the way.
Without spoiling anything, this novel’s twist lacked some of the gut-wrenching effectiveness that made The Silent Patient so shocking. Rather than ending with a bang that left me reeling for hours, The Maidens ended with a revelatory fizzle. It still worked in that it surprised me, but it didn’t quite knock the wind out of me. The twist is still worth your time, and it jives with the rest of the story. But it’s different from the twist of its predecessor.
To end my review, I’ll keep it as simple as I can. If you enjoyed The Silent Patient, you should read The Maidens. Michaelides has done it again, and though I have small quibbles with this book, I still enjoyed it immensely.