We All Begin as Strangers by Harriet Cummings
Book Review & Blog Tour
Harriet Cummings is freelance writer with a background in History of Arts and Gender Studies. She wrote her first novel We All Begin As Strangers at the Faber Academy and hasn’t looked back.
I have heard a ton about We All Begin as Strangers over the last few months. Nothing much I can remember, typically, but good things. The title particularly stood out for me, it’s like a riddle or an answer to a riddle. And the story pretty much is that: a riddle.
A Creative Non-Fiction story, which is more fiction that non-fiction, based on a real-life criminal called The Fox. The Fox was a voyeuristic criminal who snuck into people’s houses in Buckinghamshire in the 1980s and stole things from people houses whilst they were there and usually watched them for a time before that as well. There were other incidents of violence, including several rapes and a person getting shot, but Harriet whose parents lived in the area at the time was not told this until later. When she did find out about the cases of violence she had already formed theories of her own.
This is a version of the story from Harriet’s imagination and it focuses on the Fox and the disappearance of a young, quiet-spoken woman from the village.
Told in four parts from four different people’s perspectives in the small sleepy village, we see four different lives in 1980s Britain.
- Deloris – a newly, married young bride suffering from boredom and regret
- Jim – the relatively new vicar with a secret and a family that he doesn’t speak too
- Brian – a police officer working on the Fox case, who looks after his once-star older brother who is now disabled
- Stan – a man struggling with his identity was secretly close to the missing woman
All of the chapter protagonists are connected to the missing woman, Anna, in some, fairly minuscule way. Deloris and Anna had grown a little closer in the days leading up to Anna’s disappearance. Jim is the vicar in the church that Anna and her mother attended regularly. Brian was close friends with Anna when they were in primary school together but due to circumstances drifted apart. And Stan grew closer to Anna after he accidentally revealed a side to himself he didn’t even know existed.
The story is slightly slow-paced and it takes a while to build, building mostly in the last fifty pages. I don’t think Deloris’s chapter was necessary overall and being the first chapter that suggests that the beginning is a very slow-burner. But I understand why the chapter is written that way, as it is an introduction to the characters.
With regards to the characters, I think the descriptions and background of Anna are really well developed and Deloris and Brian’s back-stories are pretty thorough too. I did struggle to remember most of the secondary characters that are based in the village, but that’s typical of any village really. But it did make it difficult towards the end to know who Rick and Ralph were and how they were relevant to the story.
The story itself was well done, and I like the fact it was based on real-life and real-life to Harriet Cummings. I did see the ending coming, I guessed who the fox was, but I don’t mind when I guess endings right as I am not a huge fan of suspense. I think it is fairly easy ending to guess so some people might not like it so much.
Overall I would recommend it to readers of light mystery, historical fiction – maybe the next kind of Agatha Christie reading generation who want something more relevant to today’s generation. Set in 1980s Britain it has a few cultural references which are enjoyable, I particularly enjoyed the Dallas obsessions of Deloris.
It’s a good debut and I look forward to reading Harriet Cummings next work!
Let me know if you’re going to read the novel! It’s being released TODAY on the 20th April in all good bookstores!