It’s 1984, and summer is scorching the ordinary English 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.
But as the residents scramble to solve the mystery of Anna’s disappearance, little do they know it’s their darkest secrets The Fox is really after…
Inspired by real events, and with a brilliant cast of characters, WE ALL BEGIN AS STRANGERS is a beautiful debut novel you’ll want to recommend to everyone.
The author took her inspiration from the real life events that was a reality for her parents and other inhabitants in several Chiltern villages in the summer of 1984. An unknown figure, nicknamed ‘The Fox’ was slipping into people’s homes, evidenced by pictures removed from albums, clothing taken from drawers, warm teapots left on worktops and doors and windows left open on their departure. Thankfully the book does not replicate the more sinister and nastier actions which included sexual assault and rape, but limits itself to the mysterious and unsettling nature of the disturbances.
The action focuses on a handful or so of neighbours in a small, fairly generic English village. The newly married Deloris and Harvey, Stan, the manager of the local supermarket, Brian, the village police officer, Jim, the Lay Vicar, Cynthia a neighbour with her reclusive husband Ralph, and finally Anna, the quiet, unassuming church goer who causes great consternation when she disappears. The characters are all really well drawn, and I was easily drawn in to their lives as the plot developed.
I really enjoyed this book on several levels. It was a great period piece that really brought the mid 1980’s to life, for better or worse. The role of women in the home and workplace, the casual and institutionalised sexism, the fashions, the food, the decor and what everyone was watching on the TV. It was a time when a microwave or a water-bed was aspirational, and anyone who was anyone had a sodastream and a Magimix. Meanwhile no self-respecting kitchen cupboard would be without its Autumn Leaves crockery and Tupperware – branding was everything ( oh how little we’ve moved on).
However while the social and cultural mores of the 80’s provided an authentic backdrop, the characterisation and the prevailing village mentality provided another addictive level to the plotline. Before Anna’s disappearance I suspect if you’d asked the neighbours about each other, they’d have given a fairly consistent, if possibly often bland description of each other. Some were known better to some than others, but each would have said they knew their neighbour. With Anna’s disappearance all such certainties evaporate and suspicion and distrust becomes the order of the day. It seems they all have secrets they’ve kept well hidden, but whether they’ll be able to hold on to them remains to be seen.
While it’s based on real events, this book falls into my favourite category of read, which by dint of having no better description I tend to call quirky. It is a mystery, but so much more than that and I thoroughly recommend it.
I received an ecopy via NetGalley to enable this review.