In the first book we were introduced to Charlotte, the newest inhabitant at the Hotel Atessa. If a teenager gets murdered in New York City, they find themselves waking up in the hotel, where they need to stay until they solve their murder, retrieve their key and step through the Big Red Door to the other side (whether that’s heaven, hell, reincarnation… No one knows). At the end of the first book Charlotte’s key was cruelly stolen by another dead girl, Tess, so Charlotte found herself trapped in purgatory for ever.
When ‘Dead Girls Walking’ begins, it’s been just over two months since Charlotte’s untimely death. She’s understandably quite depressed, so when Lorna invites her to see the opening night of her sister’s play, Charlotte begrudgingly agrees to accompany her. Nancy finds them at the performance and the girls finally get some much deserved downtime from crime fighting.
However, when the lighting rig comes crashing down on the lead actress’s head and she turns up at the hotel, their relaxed night off become one of frantic investigating – it’s the earliest that the girls have ever been involved in a case, so Nancy is determined to get off to a strong start.
There’s remarkably less angsty complaining in this second book, which was surprising with Charlotte having just had her key stolen. Throughout the first book she complained more than any character I think I’d ever read, but it was forgivable – I mean, she had just been shoved under a subway train in her school uniform, for Christ’s sake! – and I appreciated the character development. There was still a lot of pouting and internally complaining about Edison, but while it interfered with the investigation at points it was still definitely a subplot rather than a focal point so it didn’t annoy me too much. The other established characters didn’t really go through any development (well, apart from Edison suddenly trying to woo Charlotte by opening up about his past… and then rescinding his offer and clamming up again) and while new character Mercy had a little bit of development, for around fifty pages or so, her character ends basically the same way as she started – it means Charlotte’s the only character that really had an effect on me from this novel.
I was glad that the formula of the first book wasn’t recycled, because it made the story a lot less predictable. The dead actress, Mercy, turns up at the hotel and the girls all instantly start trying to solve her case, but it’s not that easy. Lorna’s sister is a prime suspect, so Lorna puts her focus on trying to prove that her sister is innocent, while Nancy develops a quick attraction to the lead detective on the case and spends a lot of time aimlessly following him around the police station. Mercy doesn’t want to cooperate to start with and she hides a lot from the gang, which certainly makes things more difficult for everyone.
It does take quite a while for the investigation to develop, but the last one hundred pages of the novel are fast-paced but well-timed – it’s not a rushed ending, but it keeps the adrenaline up and makes it impossible to put the book down. The conclusion is left completely open: Mercy’s murderer isn’t found, another girl ends up dead, and Tess – yes, key stealing Tess – falls back through the Big Red Door and lands on the Atessa’s floor.
I can’t find any information about a third novel anywhere, which is damned frustrating – if this does end up being the last novel in the series my rating will take a severe hit, because ‘Dead Girls Walking’ is purgatory in a book: it doesn’t go anywhere as a standalone. The overall story is well-developed, but without reading the next installment it’s very difficult to review this title. I have a suspicion on who the murderer is, but I can’t comment upon whether it was obvious from the start because there’s no resolution. I’m very interested by the reappearance of Tess but, again, without knowing how it happened or where it will go, it’s another non-entity. There were also a lot of allusions towards the Hotel Atessa for adults across New York, which still hasn’t made an appearance – that’s something that definitely could be developed.
If I’d known how open the ending of this novel was going to be I definitely would have waited to read it until the third novel (if there is one) is going to come out. This book is brilliant for setting up future events, but as an individual volume it doesn’t have many merits. If you’re looking to continue the series and are hoping to get a neat wrap-up from this second installment then this is not the book for you, but I would still recommend the first novel.
On a non-story related note, I just have to comment on the cover: why are both girls playing with phones? It irritates me so much, because dead people have no one to phone – it’s just one of those ‘generic teen girl’ things that is supposed to help sell the book but actually makes it look ten times less appealing.