Penelope (Pen) Sheppard is a lot of things. Honest is not one of them and most importantly I am not sure she is even honest with herself. She shares little bits of herself to the psychiatrist the courts have ordered her to see. Pen shares other bits of herself to her family and smaller bits to her college “friends”. Last of all she parcels out the bits she wants the reader to know in very small increments – often leaving out vital details that we find out in the last few pages.
These bits are what keep the readers interested in the story. She appears to be the victim, falsely accused of crimes she did not commit. But she has personal knowledge of them. Is she making up stories to give the psychiatrist what he wants to hear? Is this personal knowledge or her version of reality? There are tons of questions throughout the book as the reader sees Pen in her current day world and the one that came crashing down a few months previously, after several murders.
The small town Pen grew up in was not as forgiving as the authorities, so when she came back after the trouble at college, most of them didn’t want anything to do with her. She had to come back to see Frank, because her lawyer has arranged for the psychiatrist she worked with in the past to help her work through the terrible injustice that was inflicted on her. The lawyer is requiring a report to “demonstrate her pain and suffering” to support her case against the university. The three years since she has been in Frank’s office have been a short while for him, but a lifetime for Pen.
The rest of the story unfolds as he asks her to bring weekly journal entries to him, telling her side of the events that led her to his door again. Pen is reluctant, but knows it is her only chance of moving on, so she opens her heart up on the pages and her side of the story is finally pouring out of her. But will she actually share all of this with Frank or anyone else?
The truth and lies tangle to tell a story with twists, turns and surprises. If the reader pays attention, Pen tells you that she isn’t exactly telling the whole truth all of the time. Those bits and pieces of truth can lead to assumptions that may or may not be true. You won’t find out until the end. Then you will have the “ah ha!” moment what all great mysteries need to satisfy their readers.
Clifford’s characters are gritty and real. I didn’t always like Pen – but I don’t think I had to in order to enjoy the novel. As a matter of fact, I think not liking her gave me a better perspective of her character.
All These Perfect Strangers is Clifford’s first novel, but she is the author of several award winning short stores.
Copyright © 2016 Laura Hartman
DISCLOSURE OF MATERIAL CONNECTION: I have a material connection because I received a review copy for free from Random House ChatterBox Monthly Mystery that I can keep for consideration in preparing to write this content. I was not expected to return this item after my review.