The Twisted Thread – Book Review

Its endowment was healthy enough to withstand the students who left, the students who protested, the parents and alumni who wouldn’t give money. It was Armitage: there would always be people who wanted to come here and have a little of its glory conferred on them, a scrap of its reputation. – from The Twisted Thread –

The academy was, after all, its own world, contained like a castle by a moat made not of stagnant water but of iron gates, forest, a narrow river, the school’s slight elevation above the town, and its own sense of itself.  – from The Twisted Thread –

Armitage Academy is a prestigious private high school, situated on top of a hill in a rural Massachusetts town. It seems above reproach by those who look at it from the outside. But then, on a warm spring morning, the body of young Claire Harkness is found in her room. The death is suspicious, made more sinister by the fact that Claire apparently had secretly given birth only a week before…and the child is now missing.

Madeline Christopher, a teaching intern who lives in Claire’s dorm, is immediately thrown into the investigation, along with nearly every student and teacher who Claire associated with during the weeks leading up to her death. Matt Corelli, a local detective with a secret in his past, along with his partner Vernon (a meat-eater turned vegan), are tasked with cracking the case…but as the days go by, they find themselves uncovering not just the clues to a possible murder, but the dark history secreted behind the perfect veneer of the school.

Charlotte Bacon takes her readers deep behind the walls of a private school and uncovers the darker side to the world of the privileged and wealthy. The plot unwinds slowly and is narrated in multiple points of view. Bacon excels in setting scene, providing lush descriptions of the New England countryside surrounding Armitage Academy.

The Twisted Thread is loaded with characters: Jim the maintenance man, Claire’s boyfriend (and prime suspect) Scotty Johnston, Fred the art teacher, Porter the stately head of administration, a raft of girls who are intertwined in Claire’s social circle, along with Madeline, Vernon and Matt. Author Charlotte Bacon also delves deeply into several other teachers’ lives as well. Character point of view alternates by chapter. All of these voices, along with their complex histories, began to weigh down the novel for me. Not only was it sometimes difficult to keep all their lives separate, but often the threads of their pasts seemed irrelevant to the overall plot of the book. About mid-way through this novel, I wished that Bacon had focused her plot more on a handful of characters rather than an entire school.

The Twisted Thread is not a fast-paced thriller, but more of a literary mystery. Bacon gives the reader some false leads which adds tension to the narrative and keeps the reader guessing as to the final outcome.

I read an Advance Readers Edition of this book, and so, in fairness to the author, there may have been some late editing which resolved some of the issues I had with the novel – namely that there was just too many minor characters and their backgrounds which slowed the pace of this mystery to a crawl. On the upside, Bacon does an admirable job in revealing the political underpinnings and moral coverups of institutions which cater to the wealthy.

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Overall Rating:

I have read a previous novel by this author: Lost Geography which I greatly enjoyed and can recommend (read my review).

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review through the Library Thing Early Review Program.


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  1. I love books set in boarding schools, so I had high hopes for this one. I’m sorry to see it was bogged down with so many characters.

    • zibilee on September 21, 2011 at 04:46

    I also didn’t totally love this book, and I agree that there were just too many characters for things to really stay focused. I think the premise of the book was very interesting, but it sort of fizzled away for me. Very thoughtful review. I agree with your opinion wholeheartedly.

    • Kay on September 21, 2011 at 06:00

    I’ve been looking forward to reading this one. I’m very partial to books set in schools and secrets…we’ll see how it goes. Thanks for sharing your experience. Probably won’t be moving this one up the TBR any time soon. 🙂

    • Andi on September 21, 2011 at 06:08

    This sounds interesting, and this is the first I’m hearing of it! Most excellent. Must try it.

  2. I really enjoyed this one. The boarding school setting is perfect for me, and I picked up the book for that reason alone. I didn’t think Madeline was a very well developed character but every other character was perfectly written.

    • Kailana on September 22, 2011 at 06:54

    I am sorry to hear this didn’t work better for you. I generally really enjoy books set in boarding schools, so I might give this a read at some point regardless.

  3. This sounds really good and I think I still need Massachusetts for my WHERE Are you reading challenge 😉

    • Wendy on September 26, 2011 at 08:12

    Kathy: I was disappointed – but you may very well enjoy the book.

    Heather: For me, the tension was stripped away by so much backstory on so many characters…it had such potential, but it never came together for me.

    Kay: I hope you’ll like it more than I did – I’ll watch for your review 🙂

    Andi: I hope you like it!

    Stephanie: I’m glad you enjoyed the book. I agree that Madeline was well developed.

    Kailana: I hope you’ll find it a good read when you get to it!

    Sheila: LOL – well, this one would definitely fit the Massachusetts setting!

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