Last Updated on January 10, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1068
Camille Preaker is a journalist working for the Daily Post in Chicago. She drinks heavily and engages in self-harm, cutting herself all over her body. As the story begins, she is working on a piece about four children who were locked in a room and abandoned by their mother. Her boss, Frank Curry, says he has a new story for Camille from her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri. Two girls have disappeared from the town in under a year, and Frank wants her to return home and investigate the story. Camille is reluctant to go, as she associates the town with an unhappy, unloved childhood full of trauma—particularly the death of her sister Marian. However, she agrees to investigate the story.
On arriving in Wind Gap, Camille talks to police chief Bill Vickery, who is guarded and suspicious. He does not relent even after finding out that Camille is from Wind Gap and that he knows her mother. He merely reveals the bare facts of the case. Last year, a nine-year-old girl named Ann Nash was found strangled in the woods with all her teeth removed. Now, Natalie Keene, a girl of ten, is also missing.
Camille goes to see her mother, Adora, an heiress who is one of the richest women in the town, and arranges to stay with her while she is investigating the story. The next day, an elderly couple find Natalie Keene’s body in the town. All her teeth have been removed.
The day after Natalie Keene’s funeral, Camille sees a girl playing with a dollhouse on the porch of her mother’s house. She suddenly realizes that this is her younger sister, Amma, whom she had seen before in town but had not recognized. Amma says that she dresses and acts differently at home, where she is Adora’s “little doll.” Camille then goes downtown, where she meets Richard Willis, a detective sent from Kansas City to investigate the murders. Richard and Camille agree to help each other with their respective investigations.
The next day, Camille encounters some of her mother’s friends, who are talking about the murder. They believe the culprit is Natalie Keene’s brother, John. Camille pays a visit to the parents of the first victim, Ann Nash, who mentions that Adora used to tutor both Ann and Natalie in spelling. She tries to follow this up by questioning Natalie Keene’s parents, but they refuse to speak to her when they realize she is a journalist. She does manage to speak to John Keene and his girlfriend, Meredith Wheeler, who tell him that Natalie had a history of violent behavior. She once blinded a classmate when she attacked her with scissors and twice bit Meredith. Ann Nash, Camille discovers, also had a history of biting people, and once bit Adora.
Camille tells Richard some of what she has discovered. She reveals that Ann and Natalie both bit people, but will not say whom they bit. Richard is angry with her for withholding this. The next day, the two are reconciled and have sex, though Camille will not take her clothes off, since her body is covered in scars from cutting herself.
After Camille takes ecstasy and OxyContin at a party with Amma and wakes up the next day feeling terrible, Adora gives her a blue pill. A conversation with Amma, who has taken similar medicine, then leads Camille to suspect that Adora is a serial poisoner who killed her sister Marian and is now doing the same to Amma and, more recently, Camille herself. Camille rushes out of the house in a state of terror and ends up at a bar, where she finds John Keene. John drunkenly protests that he is innocent of his sister’s murder, and Camille, who has just decided that her own sister was probably murdered, believes him. The two have sex in a motel room, and Camille allows John to see her scars, the first time she has ever done so.
Adora calls the police, and Richard turns up at the motel. Camille goes home, where Adora gives her a blue-colored drink. Camille feels that she must have been going insane to suspect her mother of poisoning and therefore accepts it. However, she is soon violently ill. She goes to the town’s hospital, where she reads in Marian’s files that a nurse suspected Adora of intentionally causing harm to Marian in order to gain attention and sympathy, but she was unable to get anyone to take action. Camille calls the Daily Post in Chicago and tells Frank Curry that she suspects her mother of murdering Ann and Natalie, and Marian as well.
Camille returns home to Adora, who takes her to her own bedroom, a formerly forbidden part of the house, which has a beautiful ivory floor, and gives her a drink. She apologizes for never loving Camille. When Camille wakes up, extremely ill again, Adora feeds her more blue pills and drinks, and she falls asleep again. She only wakes when Richard, who has obtained a search warrant, comes in to gather evidence. The police soon find ample evidence of Adora’s crimes, including many types of illegal drugs (and all those which appeared on Marian’s toxicology profile), as well as a diary in which Adora admits to killing Marian. They also find both Ann and Natalie’s blood on a pair of pliers. The police arrest Adora, and Camille takes Amma back with her to Chicago.
After Camille has been caring for Amma, with some difficulty, for a few months, one of Amma’s classmates—a girl called Lily—is found dead near their apartment with some of her teeth missing. Camille soon finds out that Amma killed the girl and put the teeth in her dollhouse to recreate the ivory floor of Adora’s bedroom. The police reopen the investigation in Wind Gap and find that, while Adora poisoned Marian, Amma was responsible for the murders of Ann and Natalie. Camille moves in with Frank Curry and his wife, Eileen, who care for her like a child. She often finds herself thinking about when she herself had to care for Amma while they lived together, whether she enjoyed it in the disturbed way that Adora did, or if she is like Frank and Eileen Curry, a kind person who likes caring for others.