In May, 2014, two twelve-year-old girls, from Waukesha, Wisconsin, lured a classmate into the woods, held her down and stabbed her 19 times with a kitchen knife. Left for dead, the victim was able to drag herself out of the woods and get close to a nearby road, where she was discovered and medical assistance was called. After being apprehended, both of the girls, who committed the stabbing, claimed to have done so to gain the favor of Slender Man, a fictional character about whom they had read online. Now, nearly four years later, Carter Wilson has used what has become known as “the Slender Man case” as the inspiration for his new thriller, Mister Tender’s Girl.
When she was fourteen years old, Alice Hill was stabbed by two friends as they walked her home through a park. Both of the girls who attacked Alice claimed to have done so for Mister Tender, the titular character from a popular graphic novel series written and illustrated by Alice’s father. Even though her attackers were arrested and imprisoned, Alice still struggles with the events of that evening. She suffers from panic attacks and has not touched a knife in the fourteen years since the attack. Yet, even as she labors to create for herself as normal an existence as possible(changing her name, moving to a new city where no one knows her), Alice finds that her attempts at creating normalcy have been futile. Someone who knows who she is, and what she experienced, is watching her. And even though she is trying to forget Mister Tender, and everything associated with him, Mr. Interested is never going to let that happen.
In Mister Tender’s Girl, Carter Wilson crafts a thriller that is unrelentingly tense, unsettling and undeniably creepy. Knowing that a similar crime was committed, and not that long ago, keeps the novel firmly grounded in the realm of believable. It also allows Wilson to make some damning observations about our culture’s fascination, or quite possibly obsession, with both the perpetrators and victims of highly publicized and sensationalized crimes. The pace is breakneck, as the story careens around New England, across the Atlantic and back again. The twists and turns in the plot simply never cease. Alice, the novel’s protagonist, is a deeply scarred and yet vitally resilient character. It is nearly impossible not to empathize with her as she attempts to secure what the rest of us take for granted: a “normal” life. All of the supporting characters are nicely drawn, and they all have a bit of depth and ambiguity, making it impossible for the reader to know, until the very end, exactly who these people are in relation to Alice. Mister Tender’s Girl is a first rate thriller