The Maidens by Alex Michaelides—ATLP Book Review

The Maidens by Alex Michaelides cover against a beige building background

The Stats

  • 333 pages
  • Published in 2021
  • Bestselling author of The Silent Patient
  • Psychological Thriller
  • Murder Mystery
  • Dark Academia
  • Protagonist is a therapist
  • Major Plot Twist

“Mariana might not be a detective, but she was a therapist, and she knew how to listen. To listen not only to what was being said, but also to everything unsaid, all the words unspoken.”

Alex Michaelides, The Maidens (158)


The Maidens takes place at St. Christopher’s in Cambridge where a dark murder has just taken place. Main character, and protagonist, Mariana is a group-therapist in London. When she gets a call from her niece, Zoe, that her friend, Tara, is missing and the police are all over it, Mariana is quick to jump to the rescue. She’s going to bring Zoe home, where she’ll be safe. Except, Zoe doesn’t want to come home and Mariana doesn’t want to leave Zoe in the middle of a crime scene. Not knowing what to do next, Mariana decides to stay at her alma-mater until things quiet down. Yet, things don’t exactly quiet down when another murder is on the horizon.

The story follows Mariana as she takes an interest in Tara’s case and tries to get to the bottom of it—sans the police. Chief Investigator Inspector Sangha doesn’t want Mariana involved, and he certainly doesn’t want to hear her claims that Professor Edward Fosca is the murderer. Fosca is loved on campus and no one would believe he would ever hurt a student. Yet, as Mariana delves into Fosca’s charismatic personality, his interest in female students, and his affinity for Greek tragedies, she spirals into an obsession that threatens to destroy her credibility. The Maidens is a thrilling murder mystery with a unique narrative and a plot twist that will have readers talking about it for a long time to come.


Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

I’m going to go into this one by stating a crime of my own—Believe it or not, I have NOT read The Silent Patient yet. Someone open a jail cell and throw me in, okay? Just kidding—it’s on my TBR list, and I can assure you I’ll be reading it soon, if only to keep up with how much everyone is talking about it on Booktok.

In all seriousness, I haven’t read a murder mystery in forever. I tend to lean towards thrillers in the fall, especially when I’m feeling unmotivated with the weather, since thrillers can be fast paced and distracting. When I saw The Maidens on a display in Sam’s Club, of all places, I had to pick it up—it was on sale and I LOVE a good deal. That being said, I didn’t think I was going to pick it up until later in the year, but after all the romances I’ve been reading lately, I wanted something different.

This story starts off awfully slow for a thriller, but don’t worry—it picks up fast. The book is divided into six parts and each of the chapters are relatively short, which I really enjoy. This book was very easy to break up into smaller sections, which, of course, made me want to read through it even faster.

I haven’t read a ton of thrillers by UK authors, but something I found interesting about this one was how subtle Michaelides’ writing style is. It reminded me a lot of Girl on The Train, which I read years ago, but has still stuck with me. I had some mixed feelings on that one, but The Maidens had a much faster plot line and I enjoyed that.

Now, Mariana is a unique narrator, that’s for sure. She’s a group therapist, and she’s not the typical murder mystery protagonist. She’s not a detective or involved in forensics. In fact, she has no relation to the murder whatsoever except for the fact that her niece knows the victim. Something I really enjoyed about Mariana is that she’s always listening, but she doesn’t necessarily “tell” us the story. Instead, she’s constantly asking questions that the Inspector and detectives keep missing.

For me, the most interesting part of this book was how many levels this plot line has. On the surface, it’s a good murder mystery that keeps readers engaged. But, there’s much more to it than that. This book has relatively low reviews, especially compared to The Silent Patient, and I wondered if it was because readers were missing the point of Mariana’s character, which is her relation to Shakespeare and Tennyson’s Mariana.

Tennyson is pretty obviously mentioned throughout this book. Mariana draws strength and inspiration from a painting of him hanging outside her guest room, and she often references his poetry. If you’re not familiar with Tennyson’s importance in this book, let me take a minute to enlighten you (trust me, keep reading for an aha! Moment).

Let me start off by talking about Shakespeare. In Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, Mariana was betrothed to Angelo. When she loses her dowry, the engagement is broken and he is then interested in Isabella. Isabella has a different plan and she brings Angelo’s focus back to Mariana—except Angelo then drowns at sea and breaks his promise to marry Mariana. Measure for Measure is a dark comedy that explores mercy and justice, as well as competition and faith.

Tennyson’s poem, Mariana, is inspired by Shakespeare, but it focuses more on Mariana’s isolation after Angelo dies. She is longing for connection, and the lyrical narrative leaves her wishing for death:

“She only said, ‘My life is dreary,

He comeths not,’ she said;

She said, ‘I am a weary, a weary;

I would that I were dead!”

Lines 9-12, Mariana by Alfred Tennyson

This sounds awfully familiar right? In The Maidens, Mariana loses her husband, Sebastian, just a year prior to the murder and she’s still trying to overcome her grief. She mentions little connection with anyone through the entirety of the book. She has co-workers, patients, even her “friends,” but she’s not formed a particularly close relationship with any of them. Instead, she constantly references Sebastian and how much she wishes he were there. She looks for him in the dead space, and she struggles to move on without him, much like the Mariana we see in Tennyson and Shakespeare’s classics.

I think part of the reason that this book rates consistently lower than other popular murder mysteries is because so many readers missed this obvious clue. Mariana’s character is the star of this novel, the murder mystery is merely the boat that carries her.

The interesting thing about The Maidens, though, is that Michaelides gives Mariana the option for closure that she doesn’t get through Shakespeare or Tennyson. By trying to solve Tara’s murder, she escapes the tortuous solitude of London and she makes new connections that help her to heal.


As far as murder mysteries go, this one might be my favorite one I’ve read in a while. I absolutely LOVED the depth to this novel and this book is truly unlike anything else I’ve ever read. That being said, I can’t give it a full 5 stars, and let me tell you why.

First off, There’s something that drove me crazy in this book—and that was Mariana’s express interest in Edward Fosca. She’s completely obsessed with him and while he does have clues that convince her he’s the murderer at the 60% point of the novel, the professor is crazy intelligent, and has a huge following. If he’s the star of the campus and he’s as smart as his students claim he is, why does he leave such obvious clues? As soon as Mariana decided that he was her official suspect, I had decided that he was officially free of charges (in my head). At that point, I had started to catch on to who the real murderer was, which made the plot twist kind of predictable for me.

I’ll admit though—as far as murder mysteries go, I’m a hard one to stump. Somehow or another, I always figure out who the murderer is before the narrator does. Maybe I should quit my day job at the library and sign up for the police squad—or maybe not, I kind of love all of the different cases we can read about from the safety of the air conditioned circulation desk.

Either way, the plot twist was one that I figured out, but that seemed to stump a lot of readers and not everyone seemed happy about the ending. But, I guess you’re just going to have to find that one out for yourself!

Overall, I loved this book and I’d highly recommend it if you have an affinity for murder mysteries, Greek Mythology, or classic poetry. It was a fun and unique take on an age old trope.

Want to order this book? Check it out on Amazon by clicking here!

If you’re not sure what to read next, check out my latest review on Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult, or stay tuned for new book reviews coming every Saturday to a computer near you. Happy reading!

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