Bookworm: ‘Girl A’ has a plot-twist, or two or three

‘The FBI Way’ is also a good book for the business reader

Terri Schlichenmeyer
Columnist

“Girl A: A Novel”

  • By Abigail Dean
  • c. 2021, Viking
  • $27, $36 Canada, 352 pages

If it's not on the list, it doesn't exist. Like most people these days, you must write everything down or you'll forget. Long notes, short sticky-notes, little pieces of paper all help you to remember things to do, to buy, or to sign and if it's not written down, well, then, sorry. If it's not on the list, it doesn't exist – although, as in the new novel, “Girl A” by Abigail Dean, some things are best forgotten.

“Girl A: A Novel” author Abigail Dean.

Alexandra Gracie was sure that her mother's will was some sort of manipulation from beyond the grave. Lex hadn't seen her mother since the woman's trial; she never visited her mother in prison, nor wanted to. So why, other than manipulation, would Deborah Gracie name Lex as executor, making Lex find siblings she hadn't spoken to in years? And why would any of them want what the neighbors had called the “House of Horrors?”

Ethan, the oldest, was easy to find: his wedding was scheduled soon and he hoped that Lex would be there. She'd never asked him how he escaped their Father's cruelty, or why he never spoke up while she and her siblings starved.

Ethan said that Delilah would be at the reception; she'd been her father's favorite, and she only spoke up on Gabriel's behalf – perhaps because they'd been chained together. Evie, it seemed, hadn't decided about attending but Lex hoped she would. Father had kept Lex and Evie in the same room back then, beds just feet apart, separated by trash and filth; despite – or perhaps because – they were together those months, the two sisters were still close.

"Girl A: A Novel" by Abigail Dean.

She'd still have to find Noah; he was just a baby back then, but she knew his adopted name. Then everyone would have to sign off on donating the Gracie property, on doing something good with the forlorn, ramshackle house.

Their names, their signatures, and it would be done.

But Lex wasn't quite done remembering...

With a back-and-forth storytelling style that could take a bit of getting used-to and a ripped-from-the-headlines plot that may sound familiar, “Girl A” instantly thrums with an oozing dark foreboding that leaves you edgy, like seeing a flashing ambulance turn the corner down your street. And no, this isn't a crime drama or a slasher tale; instead, author Abigail Dean offers authentic monsters, and real-life horrors that come in fat drops that plop into the story, slug-like, leaving a trail you can't resist following. How could you, with a therapist-catalyst who prods you along, and a narrator who's breezily, confidently dealt with it all?

Or has she? Dean's Lex is a likable enigma, pondering memories in her mind as though she's turning over a smooth stone in her fingers. She sets the perfect atmosphere for a perfect plot-twist. Or two. Or three.

Pick up a bookmark when you get this book. Bring it home and then put it in a drawer because you won't need it. Nope, the mere idea of putting “Girl A” down is a thought that won't exist.

“The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau's Code of Excellence”

  • By Frank Figliuzzi
  • c. 2021, Harper Collins
  • $27.99, higher in Canada; 272 pages

Someone's got your back. That's all you need to know. Someone will stand behind you, hold your wallet, watch your drink, and keep a look-out for you. Safe as in your mother's arms, that's where you are then, but in “The FBI Way” by Frank Figliuzzi, that didn't come easy.

“The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau's Code of Excellence” author Frank Figliuzzi.

Most people don't know it (or don't think about it), but steps are taken every moment around the clock to ensure that the United States can function under any circumstances, including attack or insurrection. It was in a bunker during one of those protections that this book was conceived, says Frank Figliuzzi, the FBI's former head of counterintelligence. Safeguards and planning are just two elements in “an extraordinary practice of excellence... instilled in agents from the moment they entered the academy.”

It's part of what he calls The FBI Way, which consists of “Seven C's.”

First is the Code, or “the FBI's Code of Conduct.” It lays out every corner, thread, action, and standard that's always expected of the FBI’s agents. It's one of the first things a new agent is faced with, separating the talented from the almost-weres. Conservancy is likewise an early lesson, representing an accountability to the group, and extending through the entire organization. Clarity leaves no question as to what is expected and enforced – which is hand-in-hand with Consequences because “Consequences put the teeth in a code.”

“The FBI Way: Inside the Bureau's Code of Excellence” by Frank Figliuzzi.

Compassion is necessary to keep a good agent from suffering in a bad situation. Extending it never undermines Credibility, which Figliuzzi says “is the cornerstone of any values-based endeavor” and which allows for transparency in how the organization works.

If credibility is absent, he says, “the mission fails.”

And finally, Consistency helps stay the course and hammer home the organization's tenets. Consistency is the guardrail. It makes things easier in the long run. It makes “doing the right thing instinctive muscle memory.”

Readers who are crime-drama fans may be scratching their heads now. A book about the FBI that's not a thriller?

Nope, “The FBI Way” is thrilling, but it's more of a procedural with incidental crime-solving. It's more of an inner peek at the workings of the Bureau and less whodunit; more about the agency itself rather than about the bad guys. Author Frank Figliuzzi makes it abundantly clear that the FBI may be the subject of TV, movies, and novels but becoming an agent and staying there takes physical ability, mental prowess, and only the most sterling of character.

But thriller fans, don't go away: Figliuzzi shares stories that will satisfy you, too: tales of bravery and sacrifice, deep looks at the FBI's work in the 9/11 aftermath, tales of accidents and purposeful acts that affected careers; murder, spying, and other reasons for you to sleep better at night, knowing the FBI is around.

Perhaps not surprisingly, “The FBI Way” is also a good book for the business reader. If you want to bring distinction to your workplace but with a Bureau flair, this book got your back.

Read more

FBI fans, there's more: check out “The Killer's Shadow” by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker. It's the true story of the Bureau's search for a serial killer, and what could be the origin of the issues we face today, with domestic terrorism, hate crimes, and white supremacy.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books.