Title: The Arrangement
Author: Miranda Rijks
Publisher: Inkubator Books
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐
This book was okay, but the description on the cover, A psychological thriller with a stunning twist,' was a stretch of the imagination. The premise of this book was better than the execution.
The Prologue is written in the third person present tense PoV of the killer, as he/she watches the victim and then kills her in cold blood.
In Chapter 1, we are taken to the first-person present tense PoV of Grace Woods, a divorced single mother of two girls, 21-year-old Abigail and 17-year-old Ella. We meet Grace on the morning on which the police inform her that Abigail, who had gone on a holiday to Cape Town, has been found dead on a beach there.
Grace’s ex-husband Bob is now settled into his new life, with wife Sue and 5-year-old son. But Grace whose life is invested in her daughters finds herself broken and relapsing into an alcohol addiction that she had steered away from for a decade. Her best friends, Natasha and Ruth pitch in to help the household.
Slowly Grace discovers things about Abi that she finds hard to believe. She learns that Abi was a sugar baby, who had three regular sugar daddies, that she arrived at Cape Town a full five days before she was to meet her close friends, Becky and Ethan, the daughter and son of Natasha and Ruth respectively, and that she was pregnant.
South African police arrest a drug addict for the murder of Abi and close the case, but Grace can’t accept this as the truth. Her intuition tells her that Abi’s death was not a random killing.
But somebody is not happy with Grace’s snooping. She begins to receive threats and feels conflicted about whether to look for the truth or get on with her life. When her anxiety gets the better of her, she takes recourse to alcohol, and slowly loses her grip on reality.
Will Grace solve the mystery of who killed her daughter? Or will the killer get to her?
Between the main narrative from Grace’s PoV, we see blog posts from Anya’s blog. Anya was the pseudonym under which Abigail featured on the sugar daddy site. The style of writing is markedly different from the style used in Grace’s narrative.
The author did a fabulous job of showing Grace’s decline, the speed at which she gives way, giving in to her addiction and messing her relationship with her only living daughter, Ella. It also prompts us to think of her as being a not-quite-reliable witness.
But it occupied far too much space in the story. I can’t stand it when protagonists give in to their alcohol addictions and sleepwalk their way through the plot. It’s an easy plot trope that almost all thriller authors take recourse to, particularly if the character is female. I’d like to see a novel in which the protagonist isn’t addicted to substances of any kind.
The book unwittingly poses a critique of marriages, where ultimately every secure relationship seems to show the strain. The other characters such as Natasha and Ruth have stable marriages, but the chinks in their relationships are showing.
The book held my interest well, but I would have liked it even more if there had been less of Grace’s alcohol addiction and more of the dynamics between the sugar daddies and the sugar babies. The book purports to hinge on the arrangement and I expected to see more of that. It was unbelievable that a sugar daddy would pay vast sums of money for a platonic relationship. Those old men are sleazy and they aren’t about to shower fortunes for some pleasant chit-chat.
At the end of it, I didn’t know what to think of Abi. I didn’t find her likeable, certainly not the way her close friends projected her as having made the world a better place. Just how did she do that? Becky and Ethan both swore that she was a great friend, but we didn’t get to see any of that in real time.
Also, Ella, at 17, should have been a lot more mature and at least attempted to understand her mother. There are kids way younger who mature fast when tragedy enters their lives. But Ella chose to cry for help and run to her father’s house.
Some more chapters from Abi’s PoV might have helped us to understand her motivations. The blog posts are not enough.