The Elephant Girl by Henriette Gyland called to me when I read the description because it hit home due to a personal tragedy in my family. Although many may find the topic a bit depressing, I can tell you that Gyland has done an excellent job of portraying how a child who has witnessed such a horrible event copes throughout their life.
At the age of five, Helen Stephens witnesses her mother’s brutal murder while in the midst of an epileptic seizure. Her extended family puts her into the foster care system and Helen grows up alone and bitter. When she is 25 and living in India she receives word that her mother’s killer has been released from prison and Helen sets out to get revenge. On her quest she meets Jason Moody who runs a halfway house to help those that are down on their luck, and partially to stick it to his gangster father. After getting to know her mother’s “killer”, Helen begins to doubt the woman’s guilt and she begins to take a closer look into the crime. As she gets closer to the truth, the person or persons responsible get nervous.
The book starts with the scene where Helen’s mom is killed and we experience the entire crime through five year old Helen’s eyes. She only has hazy memories since she was in the process of a seizure when it happened, but it seems like we know who did it right off the bat. We then fast forward 20 years and Helen is living in Goa, India, happily avoiding the real world working in a little shack on the beach. A lawyer comes in to ask Helen to come home at her step-grandmother’s request. When Helen turns that down, the lawyer drops a bombshell on her and reveals that the woman who murdered her mother has been released from prison. That gets the desired response and Helen packs up her life and heads home to avenge her mother’s death.
Helen’s grandmother has compiled a folder of information about the woman who spent 20 years in prison for the murder, and she begins to follow her to try to get a sense of who she is. In the market she has an encounter of sorts with Jason and he makes a very incorrect assumption about Helen that gets her really pissed off. Faye figures out that she’s being followed and Helen quickly lies and says that she is looking for a room to rent. She ends up in the room across the hall from Faye, in a house that’s owned by Jason.
As she spends more time with Faye and the rest of the residents of the house, Helen becomes less focused on her revenge and begins to wonder if she could possibly have a normal life. Bits and pieces of that horrible night start to come back to her and she becomes more and more convinced that Faye may not have been the one who killed her mother. Unfortunately for her and her friends, the killer doesn’t want the truth to come out and they must use all their strength to survive.
I love a good thriller, particularly one where the person you think is guilty isn’t. Gyland throws many twists and turns in the book and you go back and forth trying to figure out who the bad guy is. Helen has a chance to reconcile with her grandmother which was nice but the most touching moments came with the people she lived with in the rooming house. Used to being on her own and only relying on herself, Helen has a hard time accepting that she has friends and people that care about her. She begins working in the family business and finds out that she’s actually quite wealthy, but instead of heading on a shopping spree, she doesn’t even mention the money or her family connections.
I really enjoyed this book. As I said, it had personal meaning to me, but it was extremely well written and the characters were down to earth and easy to relate to. The parts that had Helen coming to terms with the epilepsy when she had always viewed it as a massive defect, were done really well. I hope this is going to become a series and that we will have the chance to see Faye, Charlie and Lee get their own stories!
*ARC Provided by Choc Lit
Click to purchase: Amazon
The Elephant Girl
by Henriette Gyland
Release Date: July 7, 2013
Publisher: Choc Lit