Title: Pretty Wicked
Authors: Kelly Charron
Date of Publication: 30th September, 2016
Page Count: 412 pages (paperback)
Synopsis: (from Goodreads)
The daughter of a local police detective, fifteen-year-old Ryann has spent most of her life studying how to pull off the most gruesome murders her small Colorado town has ever seen.
But killing is only part of it. Ryann enjoys being the reason the cops are frenzied. The one who makes the neighbors lock their doors and windows on a hot summer’s day. The one everyone fears but no one suspects.
Carving out her own murderous legacy proves harder than she predicted. Mistakes start adding up. And with the police getting closer, and her own father becoming suspicious, Ryann has to prove once and for all that she’s smarter than anyone else—or she’ll pay the ultimate price.
I actually finished reading this a couple weeks ago, but I’ve been putting off this review because I genuinely couldn’t decide how I felt about this book. I’ve read and loved another series about a psychopathic teenager, I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells (which I posted about in my Horror Books Round-Up), so I thought this would be right up my alley, but my feelings about Ryann were decidedly mixed.
First of all, praise where praise is due, Pretty Wicked is a very compelling read. It really hooks you in from the start where Ryann talks about harboring secret murderous desires ever since she was 9 years old, all the way through plotting and carrying out her first kill, then ramping up the tension and adrenaline as she escalates into a spree killer. The stakes grew higher as the bodies kept piling up and I just had to know how it was all going to be resolved, so I was along for the ride til the bitter bloody end. I think it’s testament to the skill of the writer that even as frustrated as I felt with Ryann, I never considered giving up – I couldn’t stand not finding out how this ended!
I also liked how Ryann’s kills were achieved in a realistic manner for a petite girl of 15, there was careful consideration given to how she could carry out these murders with the knowledge, resources and abilities of a teen her age. In addition, there was a fascinating focus on her powers of manipulation which allowed her to ensnare unknowing parties into assisting with her plots or luring her targets into following her to their doom. I’ve watched a lot of Criminal Minds and CSI in my time, and the focus is usually on male serial killers utilizing their brute strength to overpower and snuff out their victims, but Ryann played to her strengths with a clever use of social skills to gain access to her targets or methods to kill them.
I thought it was fascinating how Ryann was able to project such a polished false image of the girl she wanted everyone else to see and that she had them all fooled since a young age. Nobody’s going to look at the bubbly cheerleader as the prime suspect for a series of murders, that’s for sure! The parts where she played up her ‘innocent young girl’ image were particularly effective and not a little chilling when you see how easily everyone underestimates her simply because of her age and gender.
However, I had a lot of issues with her personality – I’m not sure if the author intended her to come across as immature and bratty as she did, or if her overconfidence despite being absurdly careless was deliberate. I wavered back and forth on this and I’m still not sure if Ryann was intentionally being depicted as foolishly arrogant and undone by her own hubris, or if those flaws were meant to be overlooked by the reader. Sure, it’s realistic for a teenager to be less than perfect at covering up their tracks when committing crimes, but for someone that had supposedly been planning to murder people since she was a child, Ryann makes so many rookie mistakes:
I thought I’d been so careful. But thinking back…why the fuck had I picked people I knew? It was serial killer 101 – don’t choose people you know.
Given that she’s obsessed with studying serial killers that she calls The Greats and fangirls over their achievements, with her goal being to emulate and surpass the likes of John Wayne Gacy, you’d think that would be the FIRST thing she’d consider. And yet she overlooks this simple factor time and time again throughout the entire course of the novel! Her murders aren’t on the spur-of-the-moment, they’re carefully planned, so it’s not that she didn’t have time to think about whether she could be connected to her victims! Especially since she’s well-known to have disliked or had arguments with them recently…
I just wanted to shake some sense into Ryann every time she KNEW she was doing something stupid (like going back to the scene of the crime) and did it anyway, or just got through lecturing herself on how important it was to be cool, keep up her good girl demeanor so nobody suspected her of wrongdoing, but then blasts her music and dances around her bedroom at 3am after her latest kill. Come on, get it together! These inconsistencies in her character really bothered me because it didn’t feel true to who she was built up to be, it just seemed contrived like the author needed Ryann to be in a particular situation or have a particular confrontation with someone without coming up with a realistic in-character reason to place her in that position.
I also wasn’t a fan of the sexist way in which Ryann viewed other girls, particularly Yvonne, her ex’s new girlfriend, who’s described as a ‘stupid slut‘, a ‘revolting redheaded thing‘ and a ‘disease-infested tramp‘, among other things. The amount of hatred towards this character for having the audacity to date her ex-boyfriend was over the top and the litany of vile insults (‘the other bimbos in her slut posse‘) quickly grew tiresome. Perhaps this is a realistic depiction of some narcissistic teenage girls, but it wasn’t enjoyable being in Ryann’s head for all the high school drama and adolescent angst. I wanted her to get back to killing people because at least that was interesting! Oddly enough, Ryann was at her most likable in my eyes when she was committing murder, lol.
Overall, I really liked the concept more than the execution, but despite its flaws, I still enjoyed the gripping plot and fast-paced action. The protagonist was a little inconsistent and unrealistically amateurish, but I could overlook that in favor of the exciting twists and turns throughout the novel, and especially the adrenaline rush of the last quarter.
Personal Verdict: 3 of 5 kitties approve this box.
Disclaimer: I received a digital ARC free via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.