Wish Me Dead | Stand-Alone | ISBN 9780141363028 | Penguin, 2015 | 3 out of 5 Points
“The funny thing is I never even meant the first one. Now I bitterly regret visiting the cursed witch’s house, deep in the middle of the forest. It’s where I made my wishes. I wished Klara Klein dead. It came true. I wished for the most gorgeous boy in town to finally notice me. It came true. I wished to be rid of the poisonous busybody who destroyed my family. It came true.
I didn’t mean for this to happen. Not me, Steffi Nett, the shy one who never says anything. But as the body count increases with every wish I make . . .who else could it be?”
I usually love everything Helen Grant writes. “The Glass Demon” and the “Forbidden Spaces” trilogy are favourites of mine and I still can’t wait to read “The Vanishing of Katharina Linden”. But “Wish Me Dead” kind of fell flat for me, for many reasons. It’s not like I hated the book. I enjoyed it, just not as much as Grant’s other books and whilst “The Glass Demon” and especially “Demons of Ghent” are downright perfect psychological Thrillers in my opinion, there was a lot that bothered me about “Wish Me Dead” even though it had all the makings of a great Helen Grant book.
WISH THEM DEAD? YEAH, SURE, WHY NOT, LOL
The biggest problem for me was that I didn’t buy the premise. I loved how this book started out: Six bored teenagers find an old cottage in the woods, realise that people have come there before them to ask the ghost of the witch who lived there in the 1600s for very malicious favours and decide to try it for themselves. It’s all fun and games until they realise it actually works. I liked that. I didn’t buy how it was done though. So apparently the first thing these teenagers think of when confronted with the idea of wishing for something is to wish a famous folk singer, who they don’t even know very well, dead. What? I get that it’s meant as a joke, that they’re pissed and that they don’t believe it will actually work but I didn’t really believe this. It’s so evil to wish death on someone, even if you think it’s just a joke, so why do they all agree to do this? It didn’t win these characters any brownie points with me, that’s for sure.
It got worse though. When she realises it actually worked and that Klara Klein has died, Steffi doesn’t stay the fuck away from the witch’s cottage like a normal person would have done. Oh no. She goes there again to wish death on some other people. And that’s when I lost all sympathy for Stefanie. The people she wants dead are mostly horrible people but why does Steffi think it’s justified to have them killed? Because that’s basically what Steffi does. She might not murder these people with her own two hands but she goes to the cottage knowing full well that if she writes it down, these people will die. She is murdering them, if not by hand, then by pen. Because she knows the witch will kill them if she asks for it.
The thing is, Steffi was an okay character. I did like her, I could relate to her very well actually: She wants to study music but she’s stuck in her small town working at her parents’ bakery because she doesn’t want to break their hearts by telling them she doesn’t like the job at all. Steffi is very shy and timid. She would not have to keep working at the bakery, but she does because her parents have no one else to take over the bakery one day and Steffi doesn’t want to hurt them by forcing them to close it down when she leaves. So how the fuck is this timid, compassionate girl able to kill people she doesn’t like without a single second thought? I didn’t buy it and I hated it too. I think if there had been a descent in Steffi’s character, if she had slowly become corrupted, I would have actually really liked this. But this isn’t how it goes. She doesn’t go from nice sympathetic girl to evil over the course of the book, she just… she’s just both? I don’t know, Steffi is quite a bit twisted.
This could have been an awesome study of what too much power can do to people and how it can make them malicious and cold hearted but it wasn’t because Steffi was this way from the beginning so what exactly am I supposed to like and relate with here? The thing is, I could have worked with Steffi just being a horrible person from the beginning, had Grant not tried to make me believe she was a shy push-over at the same time. How can she care for her friends and family so much that she puts herself second all the time but still be able to kill people without a conscience? It doesn’t make sense to me and maybe I’m missing something here but I just didn’t buy it. It’s made worse by all her friends except for Izabella being just as cold hearted. Once they figure out that Steffi’s wishes come true, they all want her to wish someone dead for them.
Izabella was the only one I actually liked and that’s not because her character was well-rounded or anything (it wasn’t), but because she was the only one with a conscience. I don’t really know why the character was in the book though. There are a lot of things that wouldn’t have had to be in the book. Izabella for once because all she does is steal Steffi’s boyfriend and then vanish into thin air. Her boyfriend, Timo, doesn’t do anything either. There isn’t even a conflict here, Steffi is okay with Timo leaving her for Izabella. So why was this even in the book if it wasn’t a conflict and wasn’t resolved either? Steffi doesn’t talk to Timo again, she doesn’t learn anything from the incident, her history with Timo is utterly unimportant. Same goes for the character of Max. He incites the joke in the beginning but that’s all he really does. Jochen, who is actually a bit important for the plot, could have done that as well. I was always waiting for Izabella, Max and Timo to do something, for some kind of conflict that justified the inclusion of these characters, but nah. They could have easily been edited out. Their inclusion doesn’t make any sense.
50% AWESOME, 50% MEH
There was too much that didn’t make enough sense actually. For instance, Steffi has one person killed for spreading a nasty rumour about her. Steffi and her mum believe that the person in question could ruin their lives and family forever but it doesn’t make sense. So someone is telling everyone that Steffi is pregnant without being married. So what? This book is set sometime around 2010, not in the 1950s. It’s set in a small city. Who would actually care if some bitch goes around saying Steffi is pregnant? No one, that’s who. It would be very easy to prove that she’s in fact not pregnant anyway but even if she really was, who’d bat an eye at that? How is this enough to have a person killed?
The other two times she kills someone are because of sexual assault. I got Steffi’s anger and her frustration with being powerless in the situations but I was still wondering why her first impulse was to go to the cottage and have her abusers killed off. She could have gone to the police first or to her parents. Steffi’s parents were normal parents who actually cared for her a lot and would have probably made sure that her abusers would get what they deserved. But Steffi doesn’t even think about confiding in anyone before she goes and has them killed.
Like… if she had told someone and hadn’t been believed, if Steffi had been rendered truly powerless, I would have understood her decision to have her abusers killed. But there’s no real thought process here. She gets assaulted, she goes and has the person killed. Twice. No conscience, no second thoughts. In the case of her abusers I kind of understand why she doesn’t feel too bad about this even though I think a normal eighteen year old girl would probably still feel horrible about having committed murder. But in the case of the gossiper and also the accidentally killed Klara Klein Steffi’s complete lack of a conscience was unnerving.
She thinks about what will happen to her if people find out it’s her killing these people but she doesn’t spare one single thought for having actually murdered human beings and that bothered me quite a lot. Steffi was cold and calculating, there was no chance for me to even just try and understand her actions. It would have been possible, I think, if Steffi’s characterisation had been more nuanced and if Grant had offered more reasons for Steffi’s actions. If she had been truly desperate, scared, helpless this could have worked. But she just wasn’t. I didn’t find Steffi believable. She’s introduced as a normal teenage girl but then she doesn’t even feel bad about murdering people, she does it without batting an eyelash. She was a huge contradiction and her actions were incomprehensible for me since I wasn’t given a single reason why Steffi had to kill these people instead of going to the police or something.
Whilst the second half of the book is pretty much a true Helen Grant novel with it’s spine-chilling events, suspenseful mystery and explosive finale, the first half was… well, not. This is a slow book and not in the way that I like. The actual action doesn’t start before the 55% mark and there’s way too much exposition. Most of the things in the blurb actually only happen around the 50% mark, the pacing just isn’t very good. I’m giving this book 3 points based on the last 150 or so pages. The book got really good then: Amazing plot twists I didn’t see coming, some really creepy stuff, and a satisfying conclusion saved “Wish Me Dead” last minute. It just doesn’t get going quick enough and I only kept reading because I like Helen Grant’s beautiful writing so much and I did want to know how Steffi would handle what she’d done. So yes, the weird pacing, unrelatable main character and thin plot were a bit of a disappointment, especially when compared to the brilliant “The Glass Demon”.
DIRNDL, DIRNDL, PLUNDERSTÜCKCHEN, DIRNDL, SCHEISSE
I found the German setting quite artificial this time around. Quite a few of Grant’s books are set in Germany and I usually really like that. Grant has lived in Germany and her “Glass Demon” setting felt really authentic, atmospheric and fresh. “Wish Me Dead”’s however felt plasticy and weird. Bad Münstereifel, the city this novel is set in, was described like something out of a snow globe. Blond girls in dirndls, little bakeries and quaint forests everywhere. Everyone knows each other, which is why that rumour about Steffi being pregnant was such a scandal, and it all read a bit like time had stopped in Bad Münstereifel around 1950 or something. It was just so… weird, actually. Bad Münstereifel is a real city, a famous spa town with ca. 20k inhabitants and millions of tourists coming through each year. This isn’t a small quaint village, it’s a small city and major city Cologne is near by too.
I just didn’t buy this setting at all. Why would 20k people care if Steffi was pregnant? Why does Helen Grant want me to believe that Steffi’s crush Kai is so famous in town that 20k people care about him dating Steffi and then leaving town? That’s ludicrous.
Grant’s portrayal of Bad Münstereifel isn’t wrong per se but it’s one-sided. We’re getting traditional German bakeries, waitresses in dirndls, gossiping pensioners and Schlager music (cringey German folk music) but Grant makes it seem like that’s all there is to life in central Germany. Bad Münstereifel truly isn’t the most exciting place to live when you’re eighteen but there are bars and shops and people actually listen to pop music there too… I’m mentioning this because the only kind of music ever mentioned is Schlager. What does Steffi listen to? German pop music? International chart music? Like a normal German teenager? I don’t know, man. Steffi apparently loves music a lot, or she wouldn’t want to study it, but we don’t even find out what kind of music she likes.
The setting not working is another reason why the whole plot doesn’t work for me, by the way. The plot is based on Steffi and her friends being so bored on Walpurgis Night (which actually is today, April 30th, a coincidence, I swear), that they decide to hike up to the old cottage in the forest to see it for themselves. This would have worked, had this book been set in a remote village with no big cities around. But… it’s not. Bad Münstereifel isn’t that boring and even if it was, Cologne isn’t even an hour away and these kids are over eighteen and have driver’s licences. So what’s stopping them? I just do not buy that a bunch of eighteen year olds would think of trekking through the woods at night to find some old cottage before they’d think of just having a beer at one of the pubs or going to Cologne to go to some wicked Walpurgis Night party. It just doesn’t make sense. I think if Helen Grant wanted this kind of village atmosphere, she should have just gone for a fictional village setting and not set the book in a city. This book might work for people who don’t know Bad Münstereifel well but for people who do, it falls flat.
I wasn’t impressed with the overall Germaness of this book either. In “The Glass Demon” Grant managed an authentic German setting with some German sprinkled in here and there for atmosphere and I felt like Grant really understood German culture. “Wish Me Dead” however doesn’t deliver like “The Glass Demon” did. There is so much unnecessary German in this book. I liked that Grant used Frau and Herr instead of Mrs and Mr because that’s adding atmosphere and I understand that some words need to be in German because there is no English equivalent, like Hauptschule (Google tells me you can translate it as general school but it doesn’t quite fit). But there were so many German words in here that do have perfectly good English equivalents. A Plunderstückchen is a Danish pastry. A Schokobrötchen is a chocolate roll. Whenever Grant wrote that the Notarzt came, I had to smirk because it read like the kind of Denglish I use with my friends when I want to be extra funny. Notarzt means emergency doctor so why not just say emergency doctor?
There was no need for all these random German words at all and even though I do understand German, these randomly thrown in words irritated me quite a bit. I think it might be even worse for readers who don’t understand German. There’s a glossary at the back but having to skip to the back of the book to find out what another unnecessary German words means must be grating. The thing is, we know this book is set in Germany and that the characters speak German to each other, even though the book is in English. Using so many German words just feels out of place. They’re already speaking German, so why are some words translated and others not? What’s going on here? Also having the characters swear in German all the time is kind of ridiculous. Scheisse is shit in English. It’s the exact same swear word. Why is it in German when bullshit and fuck were in English? The thing is, Grant did this in “The Glass Demon” too but “The Glass Demon”’s protagonist is a native English speaker. Lin noticing German words that stand out to her felt authentic to me because it wasn’t her first language. But Steffi is a native German speaker and that’s why it didn’t work for me in “Wish Me Dead”.
I’ve criticised a lot about this book by now but please don’t think I didn’t enjoy it. I did, there were some truly awesome parts. I just feel like I would have enjoyed it more if the plot had been better thought out and the setting been more authentic. But I did like a lot about “Wish Me Dead” too. I really liked the inclusion of old German witch legends. The witch in “Wish Me Dead” is fictional but Germany does have a lot of stories just like hers. There were a lot of witch and werewolf trials in early modern age Germany, an estimated 25.000 people got killed and the old stories about witches are still quite prevalent in many parts of Germany. I’ve spent parts of my childhood in the Harz region of Germany, famous for its witches and Walpurgis Night events and I think that’s why I love witch legends so much. I thought the one in “Wish Me Dead” was really interesting and done well.
”Wish Me Dead” is not as suspenseful or creepy as “The Glass Demon” and many of Grant’s other novels, but it’s still quite spine-chilling now and then, especially during the second half of the novel and towards the end. The book really picks up after the 50% mark and Grant proves that she’s just a really good writer once more. Her writing style is gorgeous. I would have probably dnfed this book 20% in if it had been written by anyone else but Grant’s writing made me stick with it because I felt like just her writing alone made it worth reading. The mystery was really well done too. I wouldn’t have guessed who the killer actually was and I loved the paranormal elements quite a bit too. The thing is, there was a lot I liked about “Wish Me Dead” but also a lot I didn’t like. Writing these kinds of reviews is hardest for me because they’re bound to be long and ranty. Does this mean I wouldn’t recommend this book? Not at all. “Wish Me Dead” is quite a fun read, especially for fans of spine-chilling Thrillers. It just isn’t perfect and kind of mediocre, especially compared to Helen Grant’s amazing other novels. I liked it but I didn’t love it. So it’s 3 points for “Wish Me Dead” from me.
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