This is the most enjoyable book I have read for ages. It is a huge slab of gothic horror written with dash and spiky humour. Danforth’s own website describes the book like this, and it’s not wrong: “Picnic at Hanging Rock + The Blair Witch Project x lesbians = Plain Bad Heroines”.
In 1902, at the exclusive Brookhants School for Girls in Rhode Island, two girls are gruesomely stung to death by wasps. More deaths (inevitably) follow. Is this related to a book that some of the girls have become obsessed with, in which Mary MacLane sets out her desire to live life to the full?
In parallel, we follow the present-day story of three women involved in making a Hollywood film about the happenings at Brookhants.
The opening pages show you immediately what’s in store. There is a map which includes the Tricky Thicket and Spite Manor. Part One is called I Await the Devil’s Coming. There are unexpected footnotes and biting commentary from an unidentified narrator. Cousin Charles, who chases one of the girls into the wood where she gets stung to death, is unpopular with the narrator: “Maybe some of the girls had, in fact, later said that he looked rakish and fine, but for now let’s discount their certainly incorrect opinions”.
Anyone who spent their early teens reading hugely long hardback horror novels as I did (I’m looking at you, special edition of The Stand) may well get a nostalgic feeling while reading this epic. There are pleasing horror references for fans throughout, but they don’t detract from the unique atmosphere Danforth creates.
Plain Bad Heroines is pure escapism from page one. A strong array of memorable LGBTQ women rampage throughout. Excellent.