All the Things You Are by Declan Hughes

2 Mins read

Some of the best psychological thrillers start with a puzzle, a well-nigh impossible situation, which nevertheless has a perfectly rational explanation. Or so the unspoken pact with the fair-minded author tells us. This book falls into that category, and also into the so-called domestic thriller subgenre. It is difficult to even outline the set-up of the story without giving too much away, although the author does his best to explain matters in the shocking opening sentence. Let me try to whet your appetite without spoiling your pleasure at untangling the knotted plot.

Claire Taylor is a happily married mother of two, settled in small town Wisconsin, giving occasional drama classes. She still harbours a secret regret at giving up a life on the stage, but a rather drunken week in Chicago at a school reunion and bumping into her former theatre director boyfriend have somewhat cured her of the nostalgia. She is glad to be going home, and feels reconciled to her suburban lifestyle.

Except, when she arrives there and calls out a sitcom-perfect ‘Honey, I’m home!’, no-one is there to answer. Claire’s family have vanished, the house is completely empty, stripped of any furniture or belongings, not even a phone, and there are no clues or messages left behind. Both cars are still in the garage, and her husband is not answering his phone. Even her sister-in-law seems to have disappeared.

Then Claire finds something sinister in the garden: could this be a Halloween prank gone horribly wrong? When the police show up, they discover something even more unsettling in the back yard and, bit by bit, Claire’s comfortable life falls apart in a web of violence, betrayal and deceit. Her husband Danny has a nasty secret, but is he prepared to do anything to protect that terrible legacy from his childhood? Claire no longer knows what to think or whom to trust.

With flashbacks to Danny’s childhood, which help to explain the dilemma and add to the motivation of certain characters, this novel is tense and fast-paced, but adds real psychological depth to the main characters. The story starts with Claire’s point of view, but we are then privy to Danny’s own thoughts, to the book about the past written by one of Danny’s schoolfriends, to the ever-so-slightly bored mindset of a trained IRA assassin, and the well-intentioned but complicated musings of Danny’s sister Donna.

This flitting around from one protagonist to the next is rather disconcerting, but it does contribute to the level of suspense. It is also a necessary plot device, because this is not a police procedural. Although we catch a glimpse of what the police are thinking as they interrogate Claire, they are not really central to the story. Instead, almost every protagonist obstinately tries to solve the central conundrum themselves – with sometimes disastrous results.

All the Things You Are is a cleverly plotted novel, showing the full extent of the damage secrets, needlessly kept from each other by couples and friends, can cause. Some parts of the book did feel a little predictable, despite the deliberate misdirections, but this is a solid thriller in the mould of Linwood Barclay or Sophie Hannah.

Severn House

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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