Everyone seems to have an Eleanor Walsh in their life–that all-too-perfect, always-put-together friend who seems to succeed at everything they do. She’s a fierce friend and a loyal companion, but you can’t help but be a little jealous, and even question why she chooses to hang out with you when she’s so perfect and you’re not. But in The Herd, Eleanor Walsh is the perfect, awe-inspiring CEO of a co-working space for women, whose flawless veneer starts to crack when she disappears just before the company is due to be sold to a tech giant. This leaves Hana and Katie, sisters and close friends of Eleanor, to piece together what happened.
The Herd is a tense thriller, although the best elements of it aren’t the central mystery or (somewhat lackluster) twists, but rather the examination of the lives of the women at its centre–Hana, The Herd’s PR executive and a longtime friend of Eleanor, and Katie, Hana’s baby sister who is battling impostor syndrome to join The Herd and attempting to finish a book about fake news. The Herd’s design clearly seems inspired by The Wing, a New-York-based womens-only coworking space and social club which has faced some troubled growth and criticisms that its members are upholding a very white vision of feminism. Having recently read Billion Dollar Loser, following the rise and fall of WeWork, this slotted in nicely to those discussions of what happens when a good idea meets problematic execution and inflamed egos.
I kind of wish Bartz had explored more of the criticism of The Herd in the book to tie it closer to real-life events–there are a few mentions of discrimination lawsuits and an online “anti-Herd” hate group that go nowhere. Hana and Katie are interesting characters and I really enjoyed Bartz’s look at their relationship as sisters, especially as Hana was adopted and is the only non-white member of the core group. Like a conventional mystery, there are red herrings and twisty backstories, some of which land better than others. The final twist and reveal of who is behind Eleanor’s disappearence was disappointing, to say the least.
But that being said, Bartz is a talented writer and the atmospheric descriptions of New York really consumed me–even with the central mystery not quite cutting it, this was still an intriguing read showing a lot of promise as an author.
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