- What: The Dancing Girls
- Who: M.M. Chouinard
- Pages: 303, soft cover
- Genre: Thriller
- Published: 2019
- The lit: of 5 flames
Sometimes I struggle to watch TV and movies with my partner, Kyle. He’s a skeptic and negative Nancy, especially when I watch mindless television. He likes to mock characters and make comments about how unrealistic things are. This generally leads to glares and eye-rolling on my part. Just let me enjoy it (even if you are right 90% of the time)!
Recently, I’ve noticed a shift. I’m the one calling out anachronisms or impossibilities and making fun of characters’ dialogue and thought processes. It’s like his craving for logic and reason has rubbed off on me — something he declared a few weeks ago with slight horror on his face.
It’s even filtered into books. In the most recent novel I read, The Dancing Girls, I found myself judging the detective skills of the main character and questioning if certain actions were even possible. If you’re wondering how a book that provokes those thoughts can still obtain three flames, I understand your confusion. Fortunately, for me, M.M. Chouinard kept me intrigued enough to not let my critical and skeptical inclinations completely influence my opinion.
Detective Jo Fournier lives for her job. She works excruciating hours and loses relationships because of it. She just can’t help it. There’s a strong desire in her to right past wrongs and put away assholes who have no respect for human life. This is precisely why, when she cannot solve the murder of Jeanine Hammond, she becomes absorbed in the impossible. It pains her so much that she’s been duped by a man who duped Jeanine too.
She and her team interview her family and friends, and although a few characters seem sketchy, nobody gives off strong enough “killer” vibes. Everything in her life seemed fine, so why would someone strangle her in a hotel? Why, also, would another woman half a country away be strangled and lain on the floor in the same exact way as Jeanine a few months later?
Only Jo, who learns of the second murder by chance on a forced vacation, sees the similarities in the cases, and few support her claims that a serial killer is at large. She starts making more connections between the two cases and more just like them in cold case files and realizes that the killer may be meeting women through online video games, where he’s forging relationships just to hunt them down. As she slowly — painfully slowly — pieces together clues despite constant roadblocks in the Internet’s dark corners, she’ll have to deal with potentially the most elusive killer of her career.
Chouinard covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time in The Dancing Girls. With only 303 pages, though, it doesn’t feel rushed, which surprises me considering the genre. Sometimes with thrillers, the pieces come together too miraculously and too soon (there’s that skepticism again), making the plot feel unnatural. The opposite actually happens with this novel, which brings me to my biggest critique.
If Jo Fournier is such a great detective — proven by her dedication to cases and her many career advances — how does she miss so many flags? Granted, Chouinard tells the story from various perspectives, including the victims’ and the killer’s, so I have an insider’s view into what’s happening. I can’t help but think, though, that Jo misses the obvious on more than one occasion. It takes her way too long to investigate the video games and the chats and interactions these women are having on there.
If nothing else is obvious in these women’s lives, why would you not investigate that relatively secretive aspect of their lives? I know I’m not a detective, but that would be one of the first places I look; we’ve all heard about the creepiness that can ensue online. Having these thoughts and frustrations made me doubt Jo as a detective, and unless that’s part of a character’s arc and story, I never want to doubt him or her.
Chouinard also takes too long to get to Jo’s backstory, which provides the context for her obsessive work habits. When we do get there, Jo’s background feels out of place with only surface-level descriptions and explanations. Backstories must be fleshed out in their entirety; otherwise, they feel like they were written only to add some obscure character complexity. That reaches too far and unnecessarily.
Chouinard does, however, go deep into other characters’ minds. It might sound eerie, but you can actually start to understand even the killer’s thought process or have a little sympathy for the life he’s lived all because Chouinard roots you into his subconscious. She effortlessly switches from victim to killer, back to the victim, and then to Jo without the book feeling disheveled or clunky.
Chouinard also keeps the intrigue high from the get-go, and I desperately wanted to know if the next kill would occur and to whom and if the killer would be thwarted. That is the most important aspect of any thriller.
So, yes, I took issue with many parts of the book, and my disbeliefs ran a little rampant. But The Dancing Girls is the first in a series featuring Detective Jo Fournier, and I might just have to give Chouinard and Fournier another chance when the next novel is released.