Children who kill children is the hot button issue underlying Alice Clark-Platts new thriller The Flower Girls. And if this is not a subject that certain readers are comfortable with it is probably best to stop there. For everyone else, Clark-Platts explores the ethics and moral conundrums surrounding the issue of children who kill other children and the question of punishment, rehabilitation and the role of the media.
The book opens with two little girls, ten year old Lauren and six year old Rose leading a two year old toddler away from a playground to play a fantasy game down by the canal. The toddler does not survive and the two become known in the media as the Flower Girls. Rose had been too young to stand trial for the murder but her sister Lauren, who was not, is still in prison. Many years later, Hazel is on holiday with her new boyfriend and his fourteen year-old daughter when a five year old girl disappears. The hotel is put in lockdown and Hazel starts to panic, it is not long before an author, also on holiday recognises her as the grown up Rose. Another strand of this tale has the dead girl’s aunt committing her life to ensuring that Lauren, now in her mid twenties, is never given parole.
Clark-Platts builds a fair amount of tension around this scenario. But her real interest seems to be in debating what might make children kill other children – what is the psychology behind such an act, is it possible to be rehabilitated, in particular, how long is it justifiable to punish someone who committed a crime when they were ten? Other instances such as the Bulger case are referenced along the way. As always in books like this, the role of the media in demonising the perpetrators and their families and framing the conversation is also critically examined.
There are plenty of flashbacks to the original incident and its aftermath, but despite this Clark-Platts does not do the ground work to convincingly explain what exactly was behind the original attack. As a result, the couple of twists towards the end that do go to this question and its relationship to current events feel like they come out of the blue and do not land as strongly as they should. The Flower Girls is effective in using the genre to explore a controversial issue (a particular one at least in the UK) and Clark-Platts does create a tense scenario but too much is kept close to the chest to make this work altogether effectively as a thriller.