Review

All the Pretty Dead Girls

by John Manning

John Manning is new to the thriller fiction genre, at least to
me. A quick check fails to reveal titles other than the newly
published ALL THE PRETTY DEAD GIRLS written under that name. Yet
his mastery of plot, characterization and pacing demonstrates a
level of storytelling beyond that of a debut novelist. I have my
own guesses as to who the John Manning behind the book might be;
regardless of whether I am right or wrong, this is a thriller
worthy of the name from beginning to end.

ALL THE PRETTY DEAD GIRLS centers on Sue Barlow, an incoming
freshman at Wilbourne College in upstate New York. Wilbourne is an
exclusive private college that has a small student body, primarily
made up of women, and has existed for two centuries just outside
the quiet town of Lebanon. Barlow, raised by her extremely wealthy
grandparents in Manhattan, has had a somewhat cloistered
upbringing, despite her cosmopolitan residence. While she initially
welcomes the opportunity to be on her own, something about
Wilbourne makes her uneasy. There is an oppressiveness that
permeates the college, one that is made manifest by its strict
curfew rules. Barlow also believes that she repeatedly sees the
face of a young woman, screaming, in one of the dormitory
windows.

Barlow’s uneasiness gives way to outright panic when
another student vanishes and is feared to have been murdered. Miles
Holland, the sheriff investigating the disappearance, soon
discovers that Wilbourne has been the site of similar incidents
involving young women that have occurred every 20 years or so, yet
all of the townspeople seem to forget. Worse, the town in general
and the school dean in particular appear to be generally
unconcerned about its sordid history. It is all the more ironic
that Perry Holland, Miles’s son and a deputy sheriff, is the
first person to meet Barlow when she arrives in Lebanon, for it is
Barlow who unwittingly holds the key to what has been happening in
the town. Further, her arrival will begin a chain reaction of
events that will fulfill prophecy and potentially unleash chaos not
only upon the small town in upstate New York, but also upon the
entire world.

The key to stopping these events lies with an unlikely girl:
Bernadette de Salis, who, on the cusp of adolescence, has
experienced the stigmata --- the physical manifestation of the
wounds of the crucified Christ --- contemporaneous with a
visitation from the Blessed Mother. Bernadette, a professor from
the college who has studied such appearances, and an enigmatic
priest from the Vatican are aligned against the forces of darkness.
Yet the key to the defeat of the power about to be unleashed
ultimately lies within the very source of it: Sue Barlow
herself.

While ALL THE PRETTY DEAD GIRLS is a somewhat long novel, one
cannot help but fly through it. Manning’s narrative talents
are such that the pages seem to turn by themselves. He has a
cinematic vision that causes the action to leap off of the pages,
so that it reads almost like a movie for the mind. And while he
runs the risk of alienating readers with his political
characterizations, those seeking nothing more than a good story
well told will look past that to the solid bedrock of his plot and
the mystery that underlies it.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 22, 2010

All the Pretty Dead Girls
by John Manning

  • Publication Date: April 1, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • Paperback: 484 pages
  • Publisher: Pinnacle
  • ISBN-10: 0786017988
  • ISBN-13: 9780786017980