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A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder review – this very modern Nancy Drew is a hoot
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A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder review – this very modern Nancy Drew is a hoot

Hot on the heels of Netflix’s Geek Girl comes another adaptation of a young-adult bestseller, this time from the BBC. Holly Jackson’s 2019 debut, A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, has been translated to the small screen by Poppy Cogan and is directed by Dolly Wells, best known as an actor (Doll & Em, Dracula, Inside Man and most recently The Completely Made-up Adventures of Dick Turpin).

As with Geek Girl, it has retained the book’s youthful energy and freshness and found a strikingly good actor to play the teenage lead. Emma Myers (who came to prominence as Wednesday Addams’ werewolf roommate in Netflix’s hit series about the eccentric family’s daughter) manages to bring all the nerdy naivety required for the part of 17-year-old Pippa Fitz-Amobi. Pip decides to investigate the suspected murder-suicide of two teenagers from her school as part of her extended exam project. This is such a perfect conceit – all the solipsism and idealism of adolescence compressed into one tiny moment – that I would like us to take a moment to admire it before we go on.

Right. Andie Bell (India Lillie Davies) went missing five years ago. Her boyfriend, Sal Singh (Rahul Pattni), confessed to killing her, but her body was never found and he took a fatal overdose before the case could go to trial. Pip has been uncomfortable with this account of events from the beginning, partly because Sal had always seemed a gentle soul, partly because he had been kind to her since she was young and partly, perhaps, out of a sense of guilt that she may have played a part in Andie’s assumed demise.

Star turn … Emma Myers as Pip with Asha Banks as Cara in A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder.View image in fullscreen

Our modern Nancy Drew scours Instagram for clues as she pieces together a timeline of events, visits local haunts, quizzes those who were among the last to see Andie and generally makes a nuisance of herself – but charmingly – around those who would prefer to forget such a horrible thing ever happened.

As Pip explores the inconsistencies in people’s accounts – which the police failed to investigate properly after Sal’s suspiciously neat confession and death – what begins as a search for justice also becomes a means of growing up. (Plot-wise, the book and the drama don’t bear much scrutiny; just let yourself be carried along.) She becomes increasingly friendly with Sal’s equally sweet brother, Ravi (Zain Iqbal), goes to her first nightclub in pursuit of more information and must negotiate arguments with various friends who are unhappy with her decision to make them relive their trauma.

Suspects proliferate nicely. There is the reptilian posh boy Max (a wonderfully icy turn from Henry Ashton), who claims he never spoke to Andie, but whom Pip discovers had started hanging out with her a lot before she disappeared. There is also Max’s creepy dad and Andie’s racist dad, who didn’t like her going out with “a brown boy”, plus the secret older guy mentioned in Andie’s friend’s texts. Another girl at school, Nat (Jessica Webber), may have had beef with the missing teenager, while Nat’s brother, Daniel (Jackson Bews), may be a whole different box of trouble.

Added to the mix are leaked nudes, anonymous notes warning off Pip, faked texts, some messing about with a Ouija board, some drugs and some sex, although not enough to trouble the Nancy Drew vibe. At times, it’s even reminiscent of Enid Blyton, or at least Eileen Colwell’s take on her essence: “But what hope has a band of desperate men against four children?”

But it gets away with it – more than gets away with it, really, thanks to the committed performance by Myers and able support from the rest of the young cast (plus a high-calibre older skein playing the parents, including Anna Maxwell Martin and Gary Beadle as Pip’s mum and stepdad and Mathew Baynton as her best friend’s father). The script is bright and breezy, keeping things moving and bringing each episode in at a tight 40 minutes. There is no time to be bored, to dwell on the plot holes or to do anything other than enjoy yourself. It manages to be a meditation on the trials and tribulations of growing up and on the manifestations of grief. In short, it’s a good good girl’s guide to murder.

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Source: theguardian.com