I’m so pleased to be on the We All Begin As Strangers by Harriet Cummings blog tour. Regular readers of the blog will know how much I love to discover a debut author so I was delighted when I was asked to take part in this. Today I’m sharing with you my thoughts on this book, but first what is it about?
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 a 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.
If you loved THE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP by Joanna Cannon, ELIZABETH IS MISSING by Emma Healey and THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by Rachel Joyce, you’ll adore this wonderful British debut novel.
We All Begin As Strangers is the debut novel by Harriet Cummings. Set in the 1980s it centres around a small village in the Chilterns, the inhabitants of which are experiencing break-ins by someone they have nicknamed ‘The Fox’. Nothing of value is taken from the homes but, for obvious reasons, it unnerves the residents. When a much-loved resident of the village, Anna, goes missing, however, all fingers point towards her being kidnapped by The Fox.
Cummings was inspired to write this book by real events that took place in the 80s. A person the newspapers dubbed ‘The Fox’ was breaking into houses in villages across the Chilterns, but not stealing anything. The story of the real Fox is more sinister as he committed rapes during his reign of terror.
Told from the perspective of four of the village’s residents who spent time with Anna, We All Begin As Strangers is more than the mystery of a missing girl and a strange intruder. It is a story about loneliness, trust, secrets and the idiosyncrasies of human beings. Deloris is the dissatisfied newly-wed; Brian, the village police officer whose personal life is not straightforward; Jim is the local clergyman who harbours a secret from his past and Stan manages the local supermarket and struggles with a part of himself he can’t tell anyone about.
Anna is the villager everybody loves – regular church-goer, unassuming and quiet – the village is rocked when she disappears. Curtains twitch as each resident becomes suspicious of the others. How well do they really know each other? Could one of them be The Fox? As secrets and histories are unfurled, it would appear that nobody is as they seem. The Fox is integral to those secrets coming to light and one by one they get to know each other better, although not necessarily with a positive outcome for some.
Cummings captures what I imagine life in a small village where everybody knows everybody would be like although, as we discover, we often only know the part that the person wants us to see. Cummings is a great writer and has crafted a plot that is carefully put together. I have to admit to having mixed feelings about We All Begin As Strangers through the course of my reading with moments of loving the book to moments of not being sure if I actually liked it, and if I’m honest I can’t put my finger on why. The ending, however, blew me away and led to me having a completely different view of the novel as a whole. The idea behind We All Begin As Strangers fascinates me and the ending left me feeling satisfied and wanting to read it again to see what I would perceive differently.
This is not a fast-paced novel as it centres around the characters, their lives and feelings in the midst of an awful event. It relies on an interest from the reader in the quirks and nuances of human behaviour and village life alongside the need to get to the bottom of who The Fox is and the motives behind their behaviour.
I think We All Begin As Strangers will have a mixed reaction from readers. It is a book I appreciated a lot more on finishing, and it is one of those books that makes you think over what you have read. It is a book that, for me, warrants discussion during the course of reading it and would, therefore, make a great book for a reading group. It has certainly left its mark on me and I look forward to what Cummings brings to us in the future.
Published on 20 April 2017 by Orion.
About the Author
Harriet is a novelist and copywriter with a background in history of art.
She currently lives in Leamington Spa, UK, with her husband and springer spaniel.
A huge thank you to Virginia at Orion Books and Harriet Cummings for my advance copy and for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. Catch the rest of the fab bloggers on the rest of the tour…