‘The Birthday Girl’ by Sarah Ward

Author : Sarah Ward
Title : The Birthday Girl
Series : Mallory Dawson #1
Pages : 340
Publisher : Canelo
Publication date : April 6, 2023
Source : Netgalley


Welcome to Eldey, an island with deadly secrets.

Mona is a carefree artist, staying at The Cloister to work on her illustrations.

Beth is the harried mother of a toddler, on the remote Welsh island for a weekend escape with her family.

Charlotte wanted a romantic getaway with her husband, not a trip with his troubled teenage stepdaughter.

One of them is a serial killer who poisoned three of her friends at her eleventh birthday party.

When one of the hotel guests is found dead, it becomes clear to Mallory Dawson – the night manager of the boutique island hotel and former police detective – that The Birthday Girl is among them.

Three guests who fit the profile, but which of them would risk everything to kill again?


I’m a huge fan of Sarah Ward’s books so I jumped at the chance to read ‘The Birthday Girl‘ early. I went in completely blind and so should you. I feel the book description already gives away too much information, meaning I didn’t know I was supposed to zero in on those three women as potential suspects when I started reading.

What I also didn’t know, until I reached the author’s notes, is that this is the beginning of a brand-new crime series, which was truly excellent news. As I mentioned, I love this author’s books but I also really like this new character she’s introduced us to. Mallory Dawson is a very determined, fierce and hugely likeable character and I can’t wait to spend more time with her.

But I’m getting ahead of things here.

Mallory arrives on a the tiny island of Eldey to work as a night manager at the hotel that is located there. It is a bit of a stop-gap as she figures out what to do next with her life. Mallory is a former police detective but is currently unable to do her job. Her instincts will serve her well on the island though, especially when someone ends up dead. It is the first death, but it won’t be the last.

Hiding amongst the guests is a killer known as the Birthday Girl. At the age of eleven, Bryony Clive killed her friends at her birthday party. As you do. Bryony is out there, living a life. Nobody knows what she looks like now as she’s been protected after her stint in prison. Can Mallory figure out who the Birthday Girl is before more people die? Can you?

Well, things are narrowed down for you. The killer is one of three women and all three come across as if they have something to hide. Plenty of red herrings all over the place to keep you guessing. Despite ruling out one character, I often found myself switching back and forth between the other two. I could never really put my finger on who the next victim might be, or why, which definitely added to the suspense. And then there was the added intrigue of the story of the nuns who used to live here. Although that’s something I hope might be revisited in future, as it definitely left me wanting more. The sense of isolation of being on an island is heightened when a fierce storm strikes the area. It all put me in mind of what, in my opinion, is still the best locked room mystery out there and that is of course Agatha Christie’s ‘And Then There Were None‘.

I found ‘The Birthday Girl‘ incredibly addictive and compelling. It’s the perfect book to get through in one sitting. Life got in the way of my doing that but I did find myself reading at nine in the morning, which is something I never do. Personally, I think the motive for the killings was a little flimsy but I didn’t really care. There was also a character I feel might have been hiding something that wasn’t revealed, leaving me curious and a little unsatisfied. However, I had a fabulous time with this story and flew through it, finding myself utterly glued to the pages. I’ve had some horrible luck with locked room mysteries lately but Sarah Ward is an excellent author and she has restored my faith in the sub-genre for sure. I can’t wait for more, both from the author and from Mallory Dawnson.

Amazon UK [out on Thursday]

My thanks to the publisher for the advanced review copy, which I received via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

  4 comments for “‘The Birthday Girl’ by Sarah Ward

  1. April 4, 2023 at 10:47 am

    Glad this one worked for you! x


  2. April 4, 2023 at 1:44 pm

    I pre-ordered this title and after reading your review I’m super happy that I did 😊 Excited to hear that it is the beginning of a new series. Can’t wait to get to it in the queue.


  3. April 5, 2023 at 11:41 pm

    I guess I didn’t read the notes, because I had no idea this was actually going to be a series haha. Not that I’m complaining, because this first book was excellent. I’m glad you enjoyed it as well! Fab review. xx

    Liked by 1 person

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