Blog Tour Book Review: We All Begin As Strangers by Harriet Cummings

It’s 1984, and summer is scorching the ordinary village of Heathcote.

What’s more, a mysterious figure is slipping into homes through back doors and open windows. Dubbed ‘the Fox’, he knows everything about everyone – leaving curious objects in their homes, or taking things from them.

When beloved Anna goes missing, the whole community believes the Fox is responsible.

For the worried residents, finding Anna will be difficult – but stopping the Fox from exposing their darkest secrets might just be impossible… 

Published April 20th by Orion (UK) 

First of all before I get to my review, I must apologise. This post should’ve appeared yesterday as part of the blog tour but I got mixed up with dates. I’ve just gone back to work after a period of sickness and to be honest, it’s been exhausting and I lost the thread of what I was up to. For some reason I had today in my head, and only realised my mistake this morning when it was too late to fix as I’ve been at work all day. So, here comes my belated review!  

We All Begin As Strangers caught my eye initially with its cover. I do love that cover! However when I read the synopsis I was intrigued. I grew up in the eighties, and liked the sound of a mystery set then. I also thought the idea behind the Fox was fascinating, especially as it was inspired by some real life events remembered from the authors own childhood.  

The book itself is unlike anything else I’ve read recently. There’s a mystery to solve, yes, in the shape of missing Anna and the creepy, sinister Fox, who is in all likelihood a villager themselves. However, this book isn’t thrilling or fast paced, and is more about the relationships, secrets and desires of the villagers themselves. It’s also told from four different perspectives, with each perspective forming part of a four part book. So part one is completely told from one characters point of view, then part two switches to another and so on. Even more unusual is that while the narrative changes, the story carries on in a linear fashion. At the moment, I can’t think of any other book that uses this technique. It has it’s pro’s and con’s. each chapter feels fresh, there’s a new identity, new secrets, new intrigue to learn. On the other hand it meant I didn’t connect with any of them in the way I usually like to. This had a distancing effect, the little windows into these peoples personal lives felt almost voyeuristic, which is of course what The Fox was doing too.  

While I did wonder what had happened to Anna, I found this was back-burnered by my intrigue into the individual character’s stories. I’m not going to go into them, as that would be giving away to much plot. However, each story is interesting in that it conveys people who are putting on a front – to their neighbours, their families and the world, yet all long to be something they are not. Each feels trapped, either by their past or their circumstances and the mystery of missing Anna, who they all have what they think to be a close relationship with, is what connects them. 

There’s also an atmospheric and claustraphobic small village feeling running through the narrative of this book. This is a community who live almost on top of each other, watch and judge – yet actually know very little about the people who live closest to them. The fear of the Fox and Anna’s story both divides and brings them together. I also felt the mood of the era was captured well with a mix of an old fashioned attitude clashing with a new one. I don’t know quite how to put my finger on it but it’s almost as if people are aware of new possibilities but don’t know how to go about taking them, so find themselves stuck and resentful in this village that isn’t moving as fast as the rest of the world.  

We All Begin As Strangers is one of those books where you don’t realise how clever and good it is until you’ve got to the end and thought about it. I found some of it slow going, especially at the beginning, before I became used to the style of the book. I also felt the disconnection from the characters impacted how engaged I was, until I considered that maybe this was how I was meant to feel – an outsider looking in where they weren’t really supposed to. I think perhaps the pace will put off some thrill seeking readers, but for those who enjoy something a bit different, like secrets and exploring different relationship dynamics and a book that actually does give you lots to quietly ponder as you read, then you’ll enjoy this one.  

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