The Good Girl

What I learned from… ‘The Good Girl’ by Michelle Dunne

The Good GirlAbout the book

Grace Murphy doesn’t seem like the type of woman who’d have a man cable-tied to a chair, slowly dying in her house. She keeps to herself and goes through life working as a barista, and caring for her sister, showing her the love they never had as children . . .

Police officer Jerry Hughes knows about Grace’s brutal and troubled childhood; his own life was deeply affected by it. Jerry still checks in on the sisters from time to time. But recently he’s been distracted by work. Men are going missing—and they seem to have nothing in common except for an uncanny physical resemblance to someone from Grace Murphy’s dark past . . .

What I learned

* A few spoilers ahead *

The Good Girl is a taught, hard-boiled, occasionally very grim thriller with short, sharp chapters that pack a punch, always propelling the story forward.

Dunne does a great job of imbuing the everyday world of Cork city with the most gruesome of human actions. It’s a world where there are dark secrets, abuse and murder lurking in seemingly every corner behind the superficial sheen of normality. At times it feels unrelenting grim, but there’s an honesty about the world and its characters;  damaged people battling through life in the only way they know how.

And it seems like there’s no one to blame for all the horror and heartache – every character is culpable and suffering all at once. Only the dead Paddy could have the finger of guilt pointed squarely at him, but in the world Dunne has created, it’s a dead cert that he himself is in turn the victim of some horror. This is generational suffering that most people will (thankfully) never encounter. It frequently seems like there’s no hope for any of them, but the character of Garda Jerry is like a peace dove, offering a glimmer of a positive future at the finale.

What impressed me most about the writing was the way Dunne dispenses information at exactly the right time to keep the reader hooked. After the first couple of chapters I was completely lost, as the narrative that had been built up was pulled away. It felt almost like a mistake until I realised Grace an unreliable narrator. From that moment on, I was never sure what was true or false, or where the story would end up. I’ve read unreliable narrators before, but seldom one where the stakes of the story felt so high.

‘I grew up in a house full of rats.’ Grace spoke in a low voice that immediately grabbed his attention, because he fell into an abrupt silence. ‘Most people might think that’s a bad thing. But it’s not.’

She paused for a while, to take in his reaction. To feel his fear, which was palpable now.

‘People see a rat and they freak out They think they’re disgusting, smelly, disease-ridden blights on society. But, did you know,’ she continued, ‘that a rat will always take care of an injured or sick rat in their group? Rats care about each other, see? They’ll do whatever needs to be done for their family. Chinese people know rats; they dedicated a whole year to them. They say that rats are creative, intelligent and honest. What do you think?’

He struggled to lift his head and look at her, but he didn’t seem ready to offer an opinion. Not that he could with the gag in his mouth.

I think Dunne’s other great success is getting the reader to feel sympathy for characters who frequently act in horrific ways. They are well-drawn, fully-rounded people with clear motivations – even when those motivations are incredibly dark, malign and inexplicable to most people.

The characters I’m currently writing aren’t in the same vein as Grace, Amber and Maggie, but there are strong lessons to learn here from how Dunne has created sympathetic figures from people who would ordinarily be splashed across tabloid front pages as monsters.

More about this book

Published in 2023 by Bloodhound Books

The Good Girl at Amazon

Michelle Dunne on X

Michelle Dunne on Instagram

About ‘What I learned…’

I read anything and everything and think there’s writing inspiration to take from from books of every genre.

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