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by Rosalind Stopps
HarperCollins, August 2022
368 pages
ISBN: 0008302650

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Meg, Grace, and Daphne are enjoying a post-Pilates break at a local coffee shop when Nina comes running in, asking them all for help as she heads into the bathroom. She is followed by a man, looking for his daughter; he looks like a toad, so that is how he is referred to for much of the rest of the story. He ends up dragging Nina out of the café and shoving her into his large vehicle before speeding away. The three women, after some discussion, decide he needs to be killed. They come to this drastic decision from different places and they are all determined that this is realistically the last, best option they have. Even if they can't save Nina, and they aren't sure they can, they can stop the Toad from doing this again.

Much of GUIDE is told in flashbacks. This is effective in that it demonstrates to the reader how Nina got to where she is when she meets the women. It's not an unusual story, and one that's quite likely to be happening in cities all over the world. The insights we get into Meg, Daphne, and Grace are not as predictable. They are not necessarily a cohort one might expect in the first place, and certainly not one that most people would see as realistic opponents in a fight such as this. Most people see older women (if we are visible at all) as doddering fools without a brain in our heads, unwilling to step out of our comfortable niches. These preconceptions may be true in bits and pieces for any one of these women; collectively, they are so very, very wrong. One woman's strong suit makes up for another's weakness. They bring the weapons they have to this battle, and they win. Not only do they save Nina, they save another person caught in the Toad's web of destruction (to mix a metaphor). It is a pleasure to see older women depicted as women of action, women with principles, women of stamina, and women capable of working together for the greater good. One is tempted to characterize Daphne, Grace, and Meg as the Three Fates, at least for the Toad.

This is Stopp's second novel. It does tend to be a bit slow in the middle section; so many of the plot twists and turns need to be set up and that's difficult to do at a fast clip. The characters are believable, especially when each woman is discussing her experiences as an older woman; the discussion about knickers is particularly apropos! GUIDE is not very specific about setting, other than it's a large city in the UK somewhere. It could easily be set in any large city, anywhere. This kind of villain exists, unfortunately, universally. One can only hope that more women like these three exist everywhere as well.

§ P.J Coldren: I have been reading and reviewing mystery fiction for over a quarter of a century and read broadly within just about all genres and sub-genres. I live in Northern lower Michigan with my spousal unit, one large cat, and two fairly small dogs.

Reviewed by P.J. Coldren, August 2022

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