When four people go missing from a small town, alarm bells ring long and hard in the minds of the residents. One of the missing is Becca, Nora’s best and lifelong friend. Nora determines that she will find her-especially as their friendship has recently been strained almost to breaking point for reasons which Nora doesn’t understand. Becca’s dead-of-night text ‘I love you’ is enough to send Nora to her house, falling asleep outdoors in the brutal cold waiting for her return when Becca isn’t to be found.
They created their own world, their Kingdom, with their childhood games-in the woods, the two of them so close that they were one entity. But Becca added layers-tests of Nora’s belief in her, tasks which sometimes risked her life, all in the service of the goddess they had chosen to rule their secret world, its centre reaching out into the occult. When the identity of the woman who killed Becca’s mother in a hit and run was revealed Becca invoked the goddess’ help in revenge and the woman died when her car was stranded on a level crossing with a train coming at full speed. Little by little, the goddess began to infiltrate Becca’s life and then, when Becca disappeared, made a play for Nora, which she finds increasingly difficult to resist.
This blend of gothic horror and the supernatural is skilfully done, but the narrative has flaws which could lead to confusion or exasperation in readers. The story of Nora’s quest to find Becca is labyrinthine, with a myriad of characters, many of them chorus figures-of necessity with little or no development. She has a small, key support group and perhaps Albert could have given them more space to enrich their authenticity. Albert’s writing is accomplished and rich with imagery, but there is a tendency, later in the book, to over-embellish, especially when she describes Nora’s increasingly chaotic thought processes as the goddess tries to overwhelm her. The romantic element of the book-a developing relationship between James and Nora-sits uneasily on the surface of the narrative and is never fully realised or wholly convincing.
There is, however, real tension and drama in much of the book, particularly when Becca and one of her closest friends dig into the library of school yearbooks and find links and clues to disappearances decades earlier and an eerie connection with a now unused part of the campus. Albert is at her best both with the unexpected and when her characters find a sudden solution after careful research.
The Bad Ones is almost 400 pages long, yet very often commands attention from the reader. It is disappointing, therefore, that Albert has seeded so many clues, astounded with the unexpected and then brought the story to such a rushed close that the denouement is not always clear. However, this will find its place in the supernatural genre of YA fiction and be enjoyed by fans of the occult and the mysterious.