“The Cousins” disappoints as a mystery novel, presenting itself instead as a family drama


Karen McManus Official Website

The Cousins lacked in a central plot, deviating from the McManus mystery standard that made her previous books so enticing.

Mahika Arya, Web Editor in Chief

Karen McManus’s widely anticipated YA mystery novel, “The Cousins”, falls flat with a dragged-out plot, convoluted romances, dramas and an unclear mystery.

McManus’s first book, “One of Us is Lying,” was a critically acclaimed book, becoming a New York Times bestseller for 129 weeks, and is currently being adapted into a TV show. After the success of her first book, McManus followed through with two more hits, “One of us is Next,” which was the sequel to “One of Us is Lying, and Two Can Keep a Secret.”

The latest book follows three cousins — Addy, Milly and Jonah Story meeting for the first time when their rich, estranged grandmother invites them over to work on her island. They meet up, confused over this sudden call, and attempt to figure out what happened that one summer that caused their Grandmother Mildred to emancipate her four children and never communicate with them again. 

The brilliant storytelling and plot buildup of her first three books put “The Cousins” as one of the most highly anticipated books of 2020, but it, unfortunately, didn’t live up to the hype. Sure, there were some good moments — some characters, like Jonah, had really interesting backgrounds and motivations — but as a whole, none of the characters were exceptionally memorable, and the big reveal at the end felt over-cinematized.

The biggest issue “The Cousins” presented was its lack of a central plot. What made her previous three books such successes was the way every dialogue, interaction and observation were essential to the final outcome; readers could see the dots connecting alongside the characters, making the stories exciting and immersive.

However, with “The Cousins,” there was no central mystery obviously stated. The previous books all had an obvious problem to solve — a murder, a freak accident, a kidnapping — all of which were established in the initial chapters of the book. The latest book had so many questions randomly dispersed throughout the story, all of which were somewhat related, but none of them tied back to a central mystery. Were the cousins trying to understand why their grandmother had suddenly invited them to the island? Why their parents had been suddenly emancipated? Who their grandmother really was? 

The lack of a centralized plot prevented “The Cousins” from becoming a well-fleshed mystery book, seeing as readers were unable to identify what exactly the characters were investigating. This also resulted in there being a lot of filler moments, even filler chapters at times, and the romance felt very forced and rather unnecessary. Quite a bit of the story could have been removed or altered in some way, and the ending likely wouldn’t have been affected, a major deviation from her past books. 

The beauty of her previous three books was the nuance, the clean integration of clues throughout the story, innocuous moments that later turned out to be very significant. For the most part, the clues “The Cousins” gave were more obvious and mostly all given at the end of the book, and it prevented a steady buildup of plot and suspense. 

With her previous three mystery books, McManus’s characters developed as a result of the mystery and the conflict it brought along — Addy gained self-confidence after she broke up with her boyfriend as a result of the investigation; Knox became more forgiving after learning about Maeve’s condition which happens because of the mystery — but with “The Cousins,” the character interactions were the main points of the story, and the mystery was treated as an afterthought.

When the mystery finally did come into play at the end, the final reveal was so theatrical it felt unrealistic, and in an underwhelming conclusion, fell to the stereotypical villain monologue McManus stories tend to stray away from. 

As a whole, “The Cousins” certainly wasn’t a bad book, especially to people who enjoy family dynamics, affluent bloodlines, and dramatic conclusions, but remained disappointing as a mystery novel, especially compared to the thrilling plots of her previous three books.