Book Review: Girl, 11

Amy Suiter Clarke

Rating: 4 out of 5.

published: 3rd June 2021
spoilers? yes


Full of adrenaline-inducing twists and emotional nuance, Girl, 11 is a heartstopping suspense novel where the detective is a podcaster.

The countdown has begun…

True-crime podcaster Elle Castillo has been obsessed with The Countdown Killer for decades. Twenty years ago, he established a gruesome pattern of taking and murdering three girls over seven days, each a year younger than the last. No one’s ever known why he followed this pattern, or why they stopped abruptly after the eleventh victim. Most believe him to be dead. Elle knows he is not and is hellbent on serving historic justice.

When the kidnappings start up once again, Elle must confront her responsibility in forcing the killer out of hiding. She needs to stop the deadly countdown and convince both the authorities and her podcast audience, before the Countdown Killer can claim his next victim.

Galley provided by publisher

Girl, 11 is a book I devoured, unwilling to put it down as the tension mounted in the investigation. Then, when I finished it, I started picking holes.

That’s not to imply it was a bad book or plot by any means — if we’re going by enjoyment, it’s a good four stars. It’s just… you know when you finish a book and you start thinking again, and your brain catches up with what you’ve read and you go …hang on. That’s how I feel about this book. I set it down, and then I started thinking about it.

Girl, 11 is a bit more of a thriller than a conventional mystery, although it straddles that boundary slightly. It follows Elle, a podcaster who, after her own childhood experience (which, in all honesty, is not hard to guess, but I won’t say anything), has decided to start solving cold cases, the biggest of which she’s just started on: the Countdown Killer.

Firstly the good stuff. I loved the way the present day narrative was interspersed with podcast transcripts. Those provided a great way of catching up with the case, so to speak, without being info-dumped on. I also found that they acted as a way of increasing the tension, both for the past case and in the present day.

Just in general, Amy Suiter Clarke is very good at ratcheting up the tension bit by bit. You feel the characters’ panic when certain events happen, you’re as on edge as they are to find out more. It’s definitely a very compelling read, and one of the best contemporary mysteries I’ve read recently.

But if we go back to where I said I was picking holes… I’m not saying this detracted from my enjoyment of the book, because I clearly didn’t pick up on them while reading, and I wouldn’t change my rating, but I just can’t stop thinking about them. For one, there was the whole deductive leap regarding the killer’s first murder. Now, I think this is where the introduction of the killer’s POV let the book down, because it made that little hole a bit more obvious. Basically, the problem I keep coming back to is how can the killer have known that the first person they killed’s age was 21? Because, based on their POV, that murder wasn’t planned. But if their whole thing circles around the number 21 — and the whole reason that leads Elle to look for a first murder — but that first killing was a total accident — it just doesn’t add up to me (perhaps I am thinking too deeply about this). Not to mention how exactly the killer is able to find out names and ages of the people they stalk. I don’t know, maybe it is that easy.

And, like I said, this is perhaps where it would have been better not to get the killer’s POV. Yes, it let you see the reason for the killings, and took away the need for any info-dump about that later, and it didn’t make it blindingly obvious who the murderer was like some I’ve read, but it added this dimension of holes to poke. Also, just personally, I’m never keen on getting killers’ POVs in murder mysteries.

But that aside — and the fact that, at times in the beginning, it felt like I’d been dumped in the middle of a series, with regards to character backstories — this was an absorbing read. And one I can highly recommend.

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