I NEVER EVEN MEANT THE FIRST ONE.
Now I bitterly regret visiting the cursed witch’s house, deep in the middle of the forest. It’s where I made my wishes.
I wished Klara Klein dead.
IT CAME TRUE.
I wished for the most gorgeous boy in town to finally notice me.
IT CAME TRUE.
I wished to be rid of the poisonous busybody who destroyed my family.
IT CAME TRUE.
I didn’t mean for this to happen. Not me, Steffi Nett, the shy one who never says anything. But as the body count increases with every wish I make…
Who else could it be?
Wish Me Dead is Helen Grant’s third novel and once again, she brings us another thrilling mystery with perhaps a supernatural twist. In it she returns to the location of her first novel The Vanishing of Katharina Linden: Bad Münstereifel. As I haven’t read said title yet – it’s on the TBR-pile – I can’t say for sure whether there are any connections between the two books, though there is talk of a spate of murders in the past. The atmosphere of Bad Münstereiffel is perfect. Like the perfect little towns you see on TV during the Tour de France and other European cycling races, Bad Münstereiffel looks completely quaint and picturesque, but is just as small to live in as such towns look. And while such close-knit communities are often a good thing, they can be insidious, because everyone knows each other and they are often rife with small-mindedness and gossip. This latter side is what is showcased in Wish Me Dead to good effect, with devastating consequences, not just in the book’s present, but also in its past.
The novel is peopled by an interesting set of characters. Not all of them are as well-developed as our central characters, but they are there for a reason and none of them feel like caricatures, except perhaps Frau Kessel, the town busybody. She reminded me of nothing as much as Mrs Crumplebottom from The Sims 2. She was this pruny old lady, who hung around town snooping and giving anyone who was getting too amorous a slap with her purse! Though Frau Kessel did much worse than just slap some people, she is the ultimate malign gossip. Steffi is part of a strange circle of friends. One of them sort of steals her boyfriend – not that she really minded as the relationship was slowly dying anyway – and two of the boys, Max and Jochen, mostly bully the others into doing what they want. I found it hard to care for any of them and it made Steffi seem isolated and an outsider.
Our main character Steffi is well summed up by her surname Nett, which means nice in German. She is very shy and afraid to stand up for herself, leading her to be easily steam rolled into things she’d rather not do by her friends and family. For example, visiting Rote Gertrude’s cottage or staying in Bad Münstereiffel to take over her father’s bakery. However, during the course of the book Steffi learns to stand up for herself and to speak her mind. She tries to fight for what she wants, sadly not always very successfully, but she does try. By the end of the novel, she is able to speak her mind and to make her own decisions, without putting other people’s desires and emotions first. Thankfully, this is not due to a boy who rescues her and makes everything better, as is so often the case; no, Steffi does it all on her own, with some help of her friends (one of whom is a boy, yes), but mostly through learning some really hard life lessons and finding out the truth about her family’s past. Which doesn’t mean that by the end of the novel she flounces off perfect and completely confident, but she has learned that she is in control over her own life, as long as she holds onto that control and doesn’t let others take it away.
The idea of the witch’s house is very cool. Every old town has some sort of old abandoned building and it isn’t hard to imagine such a myth as that of Rote Gertrude to spring up in such a place. It is scary, fascinating and it feels as if the witch could appear at any moment. On the one hand it is hard to understand why Steffi keeps going back, on the other hand, the place is compelling and in the case of three of her curses, I do understand why she made them. And it must be strangely empowering for a girl such as Steffi, who often feels tongue-tied and weak, to have all her wishes come true. Wish Me Dead is not just the mystery of who is granting Steffi’s wishes, it’s also a look at what happens if your wishes come true, however horrible they are. Who hasn’t ever thought I wish so and so would just disappear; it would be so much easier? Now imagine how scary it would be if that actually came true? Would you be guilty of murder, because you wished someone dead? Would you feel eaten by guilt and remorse? Or would you fly high as a kite, drunk on the feeling of power? In Steffi’s case, it’s all of that and more and it’s interesting to see how these events help her grow into a stronger, more self-assured individual.
My only real problem with the story was the return of the prodigal sister. Magdalena’s short visit seemed a little pointless. So she comes back, shows her face and let’s everyone know she is now happy and settled up North. But it didn’t seem to actually tie into anything else. It felt rather superfluous, even though the reason she returned was a valid one. I would have liked to have seen more interaction between the sisters, some sort of rapprochement between them.
In the end, while I wasn’t taken completely unaware as to whom was the killer, I hadn’t seen it coming too far in advance, and I really enjoyed the twist to the ending. I loved Wish Me Dead. Ms Grant seems to be getting better with each book. And I love her particular brand of mystery. While mostly marketed to a YA audience, this is definitely very suited to adult readers as well. If you’re in the mood for some creepy mystery, Wish Me Dead is the book you want to read!