By Ruth Ware

Publisher/Year: Simon & Schuster UK 2022

Publisher’s blurb

Everyone wanted her life
Someone wanted her dead

It was Hannah who found April’s body ten years ago.
It was Hannah who didn’t question what she saw that day.
Did her testimony put an innocent man in prison?

She needs to know the truth.

Even if it means questioning her own friends.
Even if it means putting her own life at risk.

Because if the killer wasn’t a stranger, it’s someone she knows…

Reviewer: Jacquie Byron

I’m a sucker for an “Oxford” novel and in The It Girl we get a nice slice of the heady, high-pressured, idiosyncratic university life that is often so fascinating to read about. And a murder to boot!

The girl referred to in the title of the book is the glamorous April Clarke-Cliveden (a perfect “it” girl name if I ever heard one) who seems to have everything going for her – the looks, the rich daddy, the brains, the beau – but then it’s all taken away. She’s killed by a truly unpleasant college porter called John Neville, at least that’s what everyone believes. Her roommate and newish best friend, Hannah Jones, a girl from a significantly humbler background, is the person whose evidence gets the accused man sent to life in prison.

Fast forward a decade or so and Hannah has married April’s old Oxford boyfriend, Will, and she’s having his baby. She’s trying to get on with life but journalists are digging up questions as to whether the porter really was April’s killer. John Neville professed his innocence until he eventually died in prison of natural causes. Hannah, who seemed to worship April at college, becomes obsessed with discovering the truth and risks her marriage and her pregnancy to chase it down.

Ware, a UK-based author, didn’t go to Oxford, she studied in Manchester, but apparently she “badgered” friends who did study there and, after England’s covid lockdowns, conducted her own research trip. She then combined the results and created a fictional college where the guts of the Oxford storyline take place. I found the student world, the cloistered almost suffocating aspect of it, the most compelling part of the book. In flashbacks to the period leading up to April’s death you get a good sense of the unpleasant person she may have been beneath the expensive clothes and glossy hair. You also get little glimpses of other players who may have wanted her dead.

Ruth Ware is an accomplished crime novelist. You’re in steady hands with this book. In a 2020 interview with the writer said, “I know all the time that I’m working towards X being guilty, and trying to seed in enough clues and red herrings that the reader has the chance of guessing the truth, but hopefully doesn’t (or not completely).” I guess, like a lot of Sisters in Crime, I’m getting hard to hoodwink these days so I did get an inkling of who might be the guilty party in the last one hundred pages.

Still there is a very insidious and interesting element to this book which rests in its depiction of the manipulative, stalking, gaslighting behaviour that a tricky man can carry out while still convincing others he’s innocent or misunderstood. This is a disturbing side road to the John Neville storyline and ultimately explains why everyone found the porter so easy to “see” as the murderer, especially Hannah Jones.