In a literary landscape overwhelmed by thrillers and mysteries, it can be difficult for one book to stand out from another. It’s not a problem that Victoria Selman appears to have though, as her second compulsive psychological thriller can attest to. Following on from last year’s unsettling serial killer thriller, Truly Darkly Deeply, Selman’s follow-up book turns the spotlight on three teenage girls who go to a seemingly harmless party at a lake, only for the night to end in murder.
Switching between then and now, the story explores the events leading up to one girl’s shocking death and the other two girls’ even more shocking confession. For narrator Finn Jackman, the younger sister of one of the three teenagers, life was never the same after the terrible crime at Turtle Lake. But Finn’s life started to fall apart before that. She can pinpoint the pivotal moments that led to the tragedy, yet it all comes back to the day her sister Izzy, a reserved girl who always had trouble making friends, met Plum and Lu. The toxic friendship between the three teens drives a wedge between Izzy and Finn, and it’s not long before Finn doesn’t recognise the person wearing her sister’s face.
With the past chapters unpicking the unhealthy relationship between Izzy, Plum and Lu from Finn’s young and naive perspective, the present chapters reveal the lasting impact of the murder. Now a borderline alcoholic living in England, Finn is still haunted by the chain of events that took her sister away from her. She’s riddled with guilt at the part she might have had to play in what happened. But more than that, she knows there’s something missing from her recollections, some vital clue that might shed some light on what really happened all those years ago. Because something doesn’t add up, and Finn isn’t the only one who knows it.
I kept thinking about those last weeks leading up to Turtle Lake. Raking over them in a desperate search for clues, trying to convince myself that my fears were unfounded. That there was another reason she’d gone missing. That she would be found safe and sound. That it wasn’t my fault. Searching for clues. Sifting through the past. Not much has changed in that department, I guess.”
Written in short, absorbing chapters interspersed with news reports, articles, diary entries, book extracts and documentary transcripts, All The Little Liars is a propulsive split timeline novel that taps into our collective obsession with true crimes and how these crimes, and the people who commit them, are viewed through the polarising perspectives of police officers, psychologists, TV watchers and family members. Away from the glare of the intense media spotlight though, this is a story about a broken family trying to put the pieces of their fractured lives back together.
As with many thrillers, it’s difficult to talk about the story without giving away the book’s secrets. It feels all the more difficult with All The Little Liars, which hits readers with one hell of a twist halfway through, shaking up not only the whole story but, to quote a well known Belgian detective, readers’ little grey cells too. I was so hoodwinked that I had to go back a few chapters to make sure I hadn’t drifted off and missed some vital clue. Not that this is the kind of thriller you could fall asleep on. In fact it’s the opposite – I inhaled the book in a single sitting.
Selman paints a dark picture of teenage friendship between girls, one built on fear, judgement and a desperate desire to fit in, and shows how the insecurities and angst of youth can spiral into something sinister. It also takes a sharp look at an adult’s role in a child’s life – whether it’s a teacher that abuses their power and influence, or a parental figure who sees a potentially dangerous situation developing and doesn’t step in to stop it until it’s too late. How different things might have been if Izzy, Plum and Lu didn’t feel let down by the adults around them, if they weren’t looking for something – or someone – to fill the void. The ripple effects of the crime continue down the line but was there really anything anyone could have done to stop it? And who’s truly to blame?
If you like your psychological thrillers chilling and fast-paced with a true crime inspired plot, All The Little Liars offers up a cleverly-crafted tale of sisterly love, dysfunctional families and dangerous friendships. The tense atmosphere continues all the way up to the end, which throws one more twist at readers that makes everything suddenly make sense. I finished the book in awe of Victoria Selman’s ability to weave such a taut, suspenseful story. It’s easily one of my favourite thrillers of the year.
All The Little Liars is published by Quercus on 31 August 2023