Within six months of Pen Shephard starting university, three of her friends are dead. Only Pen knows the reason why. College was meant to be a new start for her; the place she could shed the confines of her small home town and reinvent herself. But the darkness of her past clings to her, and when her secrets are revealed, the results are deadly.
All These Perfect Strangers is an interesting book. Whilst reading it, it was interesting and compelling. However, after finishing it, it was a struggle to remember exactly what happened in the story.
The murder mystery was a little too obvious and was easy to solve well before the author reached her conclusion. I kept reading, waiting on tenterhooks, for the big plot twist. But sadly, it never came. Instead you have to wade through pages of pointless ramblings that add nothing to the storyline.
Clifford chose to tell the story in three different timelines, all from Pen’s perspective. There’s the present timeline, which is a tiny part of the story. There’s also the recent past – Pen’s first year of university – where we spend the most time. Finally there’s also the more distant past, which is often alluded too but never really discussed in detail. As a result the timelines all jumble together and the story ends up feeling disjointed.
The characters are also too hard to like and relate to. Pen herself is extremely hard to fall for. She narrates the story and openly admits to lying, so it’s hard to know if what you’re reading is the truth, or just Pen’s version of the truth. Her complete disconnection from everything, and everyone, around her grew irritating and tiresome. Toby is annoying and super cliche, while the others barely spark to life.
As Clifford herself writes; “Things don’t go wrong in an instant. There isn’t one single moment when the world suddenly splits in two. Rather, it begins with a minute crack, and then another and another, until they join together, getting bigger and wider, and all the time you keep fooling yourself that this can still be fixed”. While it is a great premise for a storyline, All These Perfect Strangers disappointed. Clifford has won crime writing awards for her shorter fiction, but sadly her debut novel failed to fire.