Note, the format of my Short and Sweet reviews differs in that they simply comprise the book blurb and a short response (hence, the short and sweet).
‘This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths, but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. So let’s just call them deaths and say I was involved. This story could be told a hundred different ways.’
I received this book in November 2015, read a few lines and kept reading. All These Perfect Strangers is one of those books … it hooks you in subtly and then, wham, you’re halfway through. Here’s the blurb:
You don’t have to believe in ghosts for the dead to haunt you. You don’t have to be a murderer to be guilty. Within six months of Pen Sheppard starting university, three of her new friends are dead. Only Pen knows the reason why.
College life had seemed like a wonderland of sex, drugs and maybe even love. The perfect place to run away from your past and reinvent yourself. But Pen never can run far enough and when friendships are betrayed, her secrets are revealed. The consequences are deadly.
With its setting on a university campus in Canberra in the 1990s, this book immediately evoked a sense of familiarity because that’s when I went to uni and when I spent three years living in Canberra. Of course, that’s where the familiarity ended because unlike Pen, I didn’t live on campus, and I didn’t have anything like her baggage to contend with. Thank goodness!
When Pen starts university, she’s glad to see the back of the small town she grew up in. A fresh start, with people who don’t know her and her background, is what she’s after. She soon realises she’s not the only one hiding things, and when three students on campus die, Pen is once again under the spotlight. Her psychologist encourages her to “put in writing what happened at the university”, from the events to her thoughts and feelings, and despite feeling unsettled by the idea, Pen takes out an exercise and gives it a go. The reader is taken through Pen’s version of events, starting from her arrival on campus, through to her sudden departure.
What emerges from her story is a character trapped between past and present; trapped in her thoughts and memories, and trapped by circumstance. It’s a cleverly written story that traps the reader in the same way; tension comes both from the events and the sense that as a reader, you’re a puppet whose strings are being pulled in different directions. There’s a feeling of disquiet that comes from wondering whether you can trust the narrator. What is really true? What is not? These questions niggled at me through the story. On the one hand, you want to believe Pen is a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time … but is she? I think she’s more puppeteer than victim.
The ending answers some questions but invites even more. All These Perfect Strangers is a compelling and intriguing read that is bound to get readers talking.
Available from good bookstores (RRP $29.99AUD). My ARC was courtesy of Simon & Schuster. This review is the first in a blog tour – for more reviews, check out the blogs below.