She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell - book review: A complex, compelling and tension-packed story

She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell
She Was the Quiet One by Michele Campbell

When orphaned twin sisters are sent to a prestigious New England boarding school, it sets in motion a series of events that will see one of them murdered on a freezing cold winter’s night.

Murder, mystery, seduction and suspense… former Manhattan lawyer and NYC federal prosecutor Michele Campbell is a legal eagle with an eye for a gripping story and her second novel focuses on the simmering rivalries at the dark heart of an upmarket school for scandal.

Whether it’s the ambitions of scheming teachers or teenage sisterhoods tainted by jealousy and sinister rituals, She Was the Quiet One – a riveting follow-up to last year’s impressive debut Always the Husband – packs the same electrifying mix of chills, thrills and menace.

When 15-year-old twin sisters Rose and Bel Enright from California are orphaned, they are taken in by their estranged grandmother, Martha Enright, a rich, remote and cold woman who lives in Connecticut.

Following a family tradition, she packs them off as boarders at The Odell School, a prestigious New Hampshire school, and for twin Rose, an intelligent, cautious and level-headed girl, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime.

Bel, the moody, immature and more volatile sister, is horrified at the thought of being despatched to one of the country’s top schools but is still too depressed from the death of her beloved mother to argue.

Soon the school and the girls around them bring out a bitter rivalry between the twins, and the school itself has a dark underbelly of privileged kids who are running unchecked and uninhibited, of sinister rituals and traditions, and a sense of wealth and entitlement that can only lead to disaster.

For Sarah Donovan, wife of ambitious teacher Heath who is determined to rise through the ranks of the school they both once attended, Odell also seems like the best thing that could happen to their small family.

But the handsome and charismatic Heath has a dark history, and Sarah is unsure about what lengths he will go to in achieving his goals.

When tragedy strikes and one of the twins is murdered, there would seem to be several suspects but who is guilty, who knows the truth, and has someone been plotting right from the start?

This is a beautifully written and crafted tale which explores what happens when rules and boundaries are broken, sisters become enemies, and a fragile social system starts to crumble under the pressures of lies, suspicion, bullying, resentment and bitter rivalries.

Campbell shows us just how doubly corrosive these elements are in a small, cloistered, claustrophobic community where gossip spreads like wildfire, friendships are poisoned, dark secrets are revealed, and scandals unfurl like a patch of deadly nightshade.

With its air of almost gothic intensity, intriguing backdrop, and alternating narratives and timelines, this is a complex, compelling and tension-packed story which hooks in readers like an evil snake charmer… and then delivers a devilish but delightful sting in its tail.

(HQ, paperback, £7.99)