Crime is a favourite book genre of mine and I was compelled to read ‘Good Me, Bad Me,’ by Ali Land when I saw that it had been referred to as the ‘Gone Girl of 2017.’ Look away now if you haven’t read the book yet as there are spoilers ahead.
‘Good Me, Bad Me’ centres around the character Annie who has handed her mother, a serial killer of children, into the police. This is a crime story unlike any other as, before a single word of the book is read, the identity of the killer is known from the outset. The book isn’t a case of whodunnit, instead it is a tense psychological thriller that focuses on the effect on her daughter Annie as she prepares for the upcoming trial where she will have to testify against her mother.
Annie is given a new identity Milly, sent to a new school and a new home with a new family; Mike, Saskia and their teenage daughter Phoebe. Told entirely from Milly’s point of view, the story uncurls like a serpent as Milly’s mind is opened up and exposed to the reader. With the aid of her psychologist foster father Mike, we are provided with an insight into Milly’s inner turmoil and the grip her mother exudes over her despite being in custody.
An important character in Milly’s new life is Mike. At the beginning of the story he appears to be a good character by fostering this traumatised teenager against the wishes of his own family in order to help Milly prepare for the most difficult day of her life. He comes across as caring and selfless by putting someone in need before him. The perception of Mike changes later on in the book when Milly uncovers that he is writing a book about her. This raises the question of whether is motives for fostering Milly are selfless or selfish and if he actually cares about her or is just using her to write his book?
Whilst the details of her mother’s crimes trickle out throughout the story, they are never revealed in gory detail. Instead, mental health is the primary theme of the book and, coupled with the gruesome serial killing of children, makes for a dark story. There are several taboo subjects that are tackled in ‘Good Me, Bad Me’ such as the female serial killer, the murder of children and a child who murders. At the beginning of the book is a quote by Carson McCullers which sets the tone for the novel:
”But the hearts of small children are delicate organs. A cruel beginning in this world can twist them into curious shapes.”
This raises the nature vs nurture debate and becomes all the more pertinent towards the end of ‘Good Me, Bad Me’ when it is revealed that Milly murdered Daniel, one of the children that her mother is on trial for the killing, and subsequently goes on to also murder Mike’s daughter Phoebe. Did she kill Daniel and Phoebe because she is predispositioned to kill like mother like daughter? Was it because she was exposed to her mother’s evil acts, or would she have killed regardless?
‘Good Me, Bad Me’ is a deeply disturbing psychological thriller which highlights Milly’s mental struggles. The title is symbolic of the conflicts experienced by the main character; against her mother, keeping her true identity a secret and what is perhaps the most difficult battle, Annie vs Milly. Annie is her old life and Milly is her new life. Her two identities symbolise her two counterparts, the good me and bad me of Annie and Milly. Annie the killer and Milly the innocent victim. This also leads to another question, is she really evil or are Annie and Milly a split personality?
If you like crime genre books then this makes for an interesting read as it is a different take on a murder fiction. It is written superbly by Ali Land and I’m looking forward to reading more books by this author.
Have you read ‘Good Me, Bad Me’ and what did you think of it? Add your thoughts in the comments section below.