Call her a petite princess or a paranoid neurotic, either way, Anastasia Devlin has the instincts of a chameleon. She can disappear into the woodwork, share tea with a queen, or flatten a thug with one swift kick, but what she really wants is to provide her dysfunctional younger siblings with the security of the home she's been denied.
Instead, she discovers her grandfather has died without the family being notified, his mansion has been usurped by a stranger who never leaves the third floor, and her grandfather's executor has absconded to the Caribbean with the proceeds of their inheritance. If murder hasn't already been committed, she might perpetrate one herself - starting with the annoying spy in the attic.
To avoid murder, she makes a pact with the devil who apparently now owns the home she is determined to win back. While she searches for the absconding lawyer and the real murderer of the senator's aide, she will help their landlord locate a mysterious Cambodian - until oddly, the threads of all three mysteries begin to twine together, and someone is intent on cutting the cord before Ana comes too close to finding the answers.
As usual with Early Reviewer books, I didn't know what to expect from 'Evil Genius' and, as usual, I found myself reading something that I probably wouldn't have picked out for myself but that I'm mostly glad I have tried.
The narrative from the start is smart and witty and the characters largely likeable. Searching for relief from her hectic family life, she is working in the virtual world as a 'virtual assistant' and hiding out in a basement apartment. Right from the moment her solitude is interrupted by the arrival of her younger half sister Elizabeth Georgiana ('EG') and half brother Nick, she slips back into her maternal role and has to fight to protect her family. The relationships between the siblings were dynamic and soon became my favourite thing about the book.
On the whole, this story is centred around Ana: her search for a solid home and family life; her efforts to overcome her aversion to society; her unusual relationship with the disembodied voice of "the spider" in the attic and her crime-solving exploits. As a means of telling the story, it works well and the reader really does get inside her head, so to speak. By the end, though, I wasn't sure that was where I wanted to be! Ana is clearly damaged by her relationship with her mother and forms a frankly unhealthy relationship with a man who she has never met in person but is quite happy to share a house with (!). The odd sexual references seemed unsettlingly out of place and even I, with very limited knowledge of the subject, felt myself analysing her like an abstract psychology study! I understand that the author was probably going for vulnerable/troubled but it became a bit muddled. Ana went from dungaree-wearing wallflower to a tottering stiletto-booted bombshell and back again just a few too many times for me.
So what of the 'mystery'? Despite some great characters, at times I felt that the plot wasn't as coherent as I like in a mystery. I like not quite knowing what is coming up and being thrown off course by an unexpected twist. I less enjoy feeling confused and as though I've missed a step that was apparently obvious to the narrator. There were a lot of elements to the gradually merging mysteries and a lot of minor characters. Towards the end, I actually found that I was more interested in what was happening to the main characters and less bothered about the conclusion of the mystery element...even after I had just finished the novel, I couldn't have explained the plot to someone even if I had wanted to.
Overall: This isn't a book to be taken too seriously - it's as feisty as its female lead and the narrative is smart and entertaining. I would recommend it to older YA readers (although that seems contradictory!). The characters and tone felt a little too young for me to want to recommend it to more 'serious' fans of the mystery genre and a little too much political intrigue for me to think a teen would enjoy it.
If nothing else, there's a lot going on and a range of characters to keep you entertained - just make sure you keep your wits about you so you don't get lost in the tangle!