The Girls - John Bowen

McNally Editions


The Girls by John Bowen / ISBN 9781946022707 / 225-page paperback with flaps, published by McNally Editions


A wry, macabre tale of simple country living, brutal murder, and a reasonably happy couple, from our “most startlingly offbeat suspense novelist” (Gore Vidal).

In their lovely old Cotswolds village, Janet and Susan are known to all the other villagers as “the girls”—a fixture. Partners in love and work, co-proprietors of a picturesque shop specializing in the work of local artisans and farmers, they lead an enviable, enviably settled life.

So it’s no catastrophe when Sue, the younger of the two, feels the need to take a month to travel on her own, leaving Jan alone to run their stall at the Inland Waterways Rally Craft Fair. Nor is it any real threat when a kindly gay man named Alan lends Jan a hand in Sue’s absence, or when the two wind up sharing some wine and even a bunk for the night.

If Jan turns out to be pregnant some weeks after Sue’s return to the nest, what’s that but cause for joy? And when Alan happens to come visiting, by and by, finding the delighted girls raising a beautiful baby boy, who can blame him for wanting to share in a small part of their bliss?

Yes, theirs is an enviable, enviably settled life. And the girls will defend it with every tool at their disposal.


“Absolutely wicked.” —Armistead Maupin

“Of all the writers of suspense novels, John Bowen is the most startlingly offbeat: politely he leads you down the garden path—look at the roses, he murmurs, the dismembered foot, the Victorian teahouse which contains . . . satisfying horror!” —Gore Vidal

“The trappings of this sly little novel are like the crumbs leading Hansel and Gretel to gingerbread danger. To begin with, there's the intentionally coy title . . . Next comes the Edward Gorey jacket illustration . . . a clear signal, of course, that genteel, if peculiar, mayhem is in store . . . [For] people who like Myra Breckinridge as well as Miss Marple; fans of Beryl Bainbridge, Russell Greenan and Patricia Highsmith; those who feel Barbara Pym-ish on some days and Stephen King-ish on others . . . The Girls is not high tragedy, just as Gorey isn't Goya, but neither is it high camp. Bowen's authorial voice is too steady to be precious and the novel charms us as only certain tales ‘of village life’ can.”—Michele Slung, The Washington Post

“An unqualified delight . . . Bowen rates superlatives for his alternately moving, frightening, hilarious novel and—above all—for the unsuspected, ultimate surprise.” —Publishers Weekly

John Bowen (1924–2019) was born in what was then Calcutta, India, before being sent to England at the age of four to be reared by an uncle and aunt. He worked in journalism and advertising while publishing his first novels, including the apocalyptic After the Rain, then began a successful career writing for the stage and for television, including the much-lauded folk-horror “Play for Today” Robin Redbreast (1970).

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