TITLE: Ragged Alice
AUTHOR: Gareth Powell
GENRE: Mystery, Thriller
PUBLICATION DATE: 23rd April 2019
MY RATING: 2.5/5
In Gareth L. Powell’s Ragged Alice a detective in a small Welsh town can literally see the evil in people’s souls.
Orphaned at an early age, DCI Holly Craig grew up in the small Welsh coastal town of Pontyrhudd. As soon as she was old enough, she ran away to London and joined the police. Now, fifteen years later, she’s back in her old hometown to investigate what seems at first to be a simple hit-and-run, but which soon escalates into something far deadlier and unexpectedly personal—something that will take all of her peculiar talents to solve.
Thoughts & Opinions
Convincing me to request an ARC of Gareth Powell’s Ragged Alice was easy. It took just one line of the blurb;
“A detective in a small Welsh town can literally see the evil in people’s souls.”
Unfortunately, blurb can be misleading.
Following a police investigation into a series of murders in a small, coastal town in Wales, Ragged Alice draws you in with a whole host of different plotlines and narratives. There’s the purported corruption within the local government, secretive military experiments, people with peculiar supernatural abilities, and, of course, the ritualistic murders. Now, as with any good mystery, these multiple plotlines help to keep the reader on their toes, not knowing which elements are key to solving the mystery and which are in fact red herrings. Unfortunately, it felt as though Powell was trying to cram in too much. After all, Ragged Alice is just a novella, and with so many different plot lines, there wasn’t enough space or time for each strand of narrative to be properly developed. The nature of the mysterious military experiments is never revealed and the only purpose that the military arc appears to serve is to provide a rather poor reason for the murder of Alice Craig so long ago. Considering the attention that it was given in the blurb, I was also disappointed with how little the protagonist’s supernatural abilities were utilised in the story. They garnered few references and their role in solving the case was minimal at best. Given that it was these abilities that attracted me to Ragged Alice in the first place, this was quite a let-down.
While many elements of the story felt underdeveloped, Powell has clearly put a lot of effort into his characters. I found DCI Holly Craig to be both interesting and well developed, with much of the book being dedicated to explaining how her past had led to her present. However, I did find that the way she was described and the way she acted to be slightly contradictory. Despite being described as an officer who rose through the ranks thanks to her stellar police record, she struggled on the case and seemed a little incompetent, stumbling her way through the case more by luck than anything else.
I would certainly commend Powell on surrounding Craig with an odd but intriguing cast of minor characters that worked well at pushing the plot forward. Scott was a stoic and steady deputy to the unpredictable DCI Craig, and I found Lao, the local reporter, to be an odd, yet very likeable, addition to the story. The most fascinating (and endearing) character was, without doubt, Mrs. Phillips, the town’s eccentric nonagenarian with the ability to see ghosts. Her elderly, cavalier attitude towards life was incredibly refreshing compared to the dreariness and misery exuded by almost everyone and everything else in the book. She was the absolute standout in every scene she played a part.
While a part of me really enjoyed much of Ragged Alice, I finished the book feeling somewhat unsatisfied. The blurb and the premise offered so much but the book wasn’t really able to deliver. That’s not to say it wasn’t entertaining. I enjoyed much of what I read. However, I think that the story would have been markedly better were it a full-length novel, and the author had more time and pages to dedicate to completing the various narrative strands that are started. Ultimately, it’s not so much about what is there, but what has been left out. It’s about what could have been.
Thanks to MacMillan-Tor/Forge and NetGalley for the ARC in exchange for an honest review