Review: Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls by Mary Downing Hahn

Based on an actual crime in 1955, this YA novel is at once a mystery and a coming-of-age story. The brutal murder of two teenage girls on the last day of Nora Cunningham’s junior year in high school throws Nora into turmoil. Her certainties, friendships, religion, her prudence, her resolve to find a boyfriend taller than she is – are shaken or cast off altogether.  

Most people in Elmgrove, Maryland, share the comforting conviction that Buddy Novak, who had every reason to want his ex-girlfriend dead, is responsible for the killings. Nora agrees at first, then begins to doubt Buddy’s guilt, and finally comes to believe him innocent – the lone dissenting voice in Elmgrove.  

Told from several different perspectives, including that of the murderer, Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls is a suspenseful page-turner with a powerful human drama at its core.

Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls started slow, but built in intensity as the novel progressed. Once I felt a connection to the different narrators and understood how they were each dealing with the murders, I had to know how everything ended up and if the murderer was ever caught.

This novel started with a nightmare and, being set in the 1950s, continued on almost sleepily. The novel’s intensity was driven by the characters and their internal struggles more than external action. Fans of plot-driven novels might have a difficult time with the pacing of Mister Death.

I really loved the parts of the novel narrated by Nora, the one person who doesn’t believe Buddy, the ex-boyfriend of one of the murdered girls, committed this horrible crime. She was so level-headed about the situation, even though it would have been way easier to pick a scapegoat and blame Buddy. 

After the murders, Nora begins to question her religion and the presence of God. I completely understood where Nora was coming from, but it was also easy to empathize with other characters, like her best friend, Ellie, who found herself a stronger believer afterwords. 

Even though it took me awhile to work my way through this novel, I’m glad I did. It was different than my normal reads and I found the character development and plot intriguing. If you’re looking for a mysterious, character-driven novel, Mister Death’s Blue-Eyed Girls is for you.
Clarion Books, April 2012, Hardcover, ISBN: 9780547760620, 328 pages 

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