Wednesday, 10 May 2017

We All Begin As Strangers by Harriet Cummings

review by Maryom

The quiet country town of Heathcote is being disturbed by rumours of someone sneaking into houses, sometimes even when the owners are at home. No one has seen this mysterious person, nick-named The Fox for his sneaky habits, and nothing has been stolen, but people report their possessions being moved, as if picked up and replaced in the wrong spot. In a small community where everyone knows their neighbours, it's a disquieting feeling. Then events escalate with the disappearance of Anna, a quiet young woman who lived alone, and everyone fears she's been abducted by The Fox. As the local police call in reinforcements, people hide indoors behind locked windows and chained doors, all fearing they might be the next victim ...

Set in the 1980s and inspired by real events of the time, We All Begin As Strangers is a really impressive debut. Although revolving around a crime, it isn't quite a crime novel, and although it's a psychological study of what goes on behind the net curtains of a small, fairly prosperous English town, is definitely isn't a psychological thriller. It's closer to Joanna Cannon's The Trouble with Goats and Sheep, or Jon McGregor's Reservoir 13, both of which use the whodunnit format to explore the relationships and secrets of a small community.
The story is told in the third person, with each of the four parts of the novel being told from a different character's point of view - that of  Deloris, who's been married for only a year, but is finding the reality of married life doesn't live up to her hopes and expectations; Jim, the lay preacher who knew Anna through her help at the church, and is running from something shameful in his past; Brian, the local policeman, whose life revolves around caring for his older brother disabled in a freak accident; and Stan the supermarket manager, another person hiding a guilty secret. Anna herself, around whom everything revolves, remains an enigma - pleasant, kind, always busy with charity work, or helping at the church, well thought of by her neighbours, but not really close to any of them.
The author shows a real understanding of her characters' emotions and thoughts, their strengths or flaws, and brings them to life with care and sympathy - any or all feel like they could be your neighbours.

Maryom's review - 5 stars 
Publisher - Orion Books

Genre - adult fiction

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