The Flower Girls is anything but the sweet story of childhood innocence its title might suggest, as Alice Clark-Platt’s novel deals with the disturbing and highly emotive subject of child abduction and murder where the perpetrators were children themselves.
THREE CHILDREN WENT OUT TO PLAY. ONLY TWO CAME BACK.
The Flower Girls. Laurel and Primrose.
One convicted of murder, the other given a new identity.
Now, nineteen years later, another child has gone missing.
And the Flower Girls are about to hit the headlines all over again…
The Flower Girls is what the media dubbed sisters Laurel (10) and Primrose (6) after they went on trial for the murder of a child who went missing. Laurel ended up going to prison where she still is to this day, while Primrose was given a new identity. One that is now in danger of being exposed 19 years later when Hazel (fka Primrose) is away for New Year with her partner and his daughter and a little girl goes missing from the hotel where they’re all staying.
It’s clever of Alice Clark-Platt to not only place Hazel in the vicinity of this latest missing girl but in the exact same hotel as the child was staying with her parents, as it helps to provide a heightened sense of what Hazel’s life must have been like since she was given her new identity.
When guests are confined to the hotel, it brings home the claustrophobia and fear of detection Hazel has felt for the past 19 years, living under the dally threat of being found and exposed by those who either don’t believe she deserved to be given a second chance and/or who are looking for a scoop.
The danger of being exposed could also prove damaging to older sister Laurel’s upcoming case review before the parole board, and help re-ignite the campaign against her release.
By framing The Flower Girls’ story within the present-day missing child case, Alice Clark-Platt shows the raw emotions of everyone involved in the immediate aftermath of a child’s disappearance, how the situation evolves with every passing minute she remains unaccounted for, together with the longer term impact on those involved in such a polarising case. But she’s also able to look at how a sensational case that hit the headlines still resonates, and is raked over again with each new case that’s reported.
The author looks at it from every perspective: from family member to police officers to perpetrator to traumatised potential witness/bystander to the press and media right down to concerned members of the public together with those who are more voyeuristic or looking to profit from it.
The Flower Girls explores the role of nature/nurture, whether evil can be present in children so young, the age of criminal responsibility, the potential for rehabilitation in such cases or whether those involved need lifelong supervision or professional help to protect them and wider society, public opinion, and the media’s role in reporting these cases and how responsible they are for influencing public opinion with their headlines and at best insensitive, at worst often sensationalist, reporting.
Alice Clark-Platts mines a dark seam for her material and this is a difficult and uncomfortable read, whether or not you’re familiar with the cases mentioned. (I’d question if direct reference to existing real cases even needed to be made but they are, so it’s a moot point.) It might not provide the answers some readers will be looking for but I think it raises questions that are well worth considering and exploring and which could form the basis for a fascinating (book group) discussion.
The Flower Girls is a disturbing but strangely compelling story and I’ll be interested to see what Alice Clark-Platts does next.
The Flower Girls by Alice Clark-Platts is published by Raven Books, an imprint of Bloomsbury UK, and is available as an audiobook, ebook, in hardback and is out in paperback from today. You can find it at Amazon UK or buy it from Hive which supports your local independent bookshop. To find out more about Alice Clark-Platts and her writing, check out her Author Website or follow her on Twitter.
My thanks to the publisher for a copy of the book via NetGalley.