Roses & Thorns

Roses & Thorns

Sunday, September 25, 2016

All These Perfect Strangers by Aiofe Clifford


“This is about three deaths. Actually more, if you go back far enough. I say deaths but perhaps all of them were murders. It’s a grey area. Murder, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.”

Within six months of her arrival at a university campus, three of Penelope Sheppard’s new friends are dead. And only Pen knows why. This isn’t Pen’s first encounter with violence, and she’s an expert at keeping secrets—especially ones as dark and dangerous as her own.

Reputations have a way of haunting you—they’re easy to make, hard to shake. After Pen leaves her isolated hometown to escape the judgmental stares of her neighbors and carve out a new identity for herself, she’s free from the stigma of her past mistakes. At school, Pen is anonymous, surrounded by an eclectic collection of perfect strangers. But when someone begins to uncover the deadly secrets she thought she’d left behind, how far will Pen go to protect her new life?

Six months later, Pen is back home, the victim of a violent trauma and a pariah once again. Now, reluctantly, she must recount her story from start to finish: to her shrink, to the police, even to herself. Because until she tells the whole truth, there will be no escaping the past.

About the Author:

Aoife Clifford is the author of the novel All These Perfect Strangers, published in Australia (March 2016) and the United Kingdom (August 2016) by Simon & Schuster. It will be published by Penguin Random House in the United States (July 2016). It is available as an audiobook from Bolinda Audio.

Born in London of Irish parents, Aoife grew up in New South Wales, studied Arts/Law at the Australian National University, Canberra, and now lives in Melbourne.

She has won two premier short story prizes for crime fiction in Australia—the Scarlet Stiletto (2007) and the S.D. Harvey Ned Kelly Award in 2012, among other prizes. She has also been short listed for the UK Crime Association’s Debut Dagger. In 2014 she was awarded an Australian Society of Authors mentorship for her novel, All These Perfect Strangers.


I couldn’t quite decide whether or not I trusted Penelope Sheppard, and therefore, I couldn’t quite decide whether I liked her. She was a troubled child from a troubled home, who got into trouble with her best friend that culminated with the death of a cop, and the suicide of her friend. Then, when she arrives at university, people start dying around her. I was fairly certain Pen was not involved in the murders, but still, it took a long time for the whole story to unravel.

I think that’s the problem with All These Perfect Strangers. It takes place over a semester of school, partly as told to Pen’s shrink, partly as she remembers it, and it’s mixed with memories of the events leading up to the demise of the cop and her best friend’s suicide. And, it seemed to take that long to read it.

Furthermore, Ms. Clifford did not make it clear from the beginning the book took place in Australia. There was no hint in the blurb, and I was halfway through the book when she mentioned it was getting cold in April. I did a double-take, and went back a few pages to be sure I’d read right. Prior to that, I thought the book took place in England. A couple of chapters later, Ms. Clifford mentioned eucalyptus trees, and that confirmed it was in Australia. It would have helped to know what continent the book was on—indeed, what hemisphere it was in, much earlier.

Despite the somewhat slow pacing, not being sure of the heroine, and not realizing for half the book that it was in Australia rather than England, All These Perfect Strangers still held my attention. I did figure out much of what happened back home before Ms. Clifford revealed it, but I was surprised by “who dunnit” at school, and a couple of the details at home.

Just pick up the pace a bit, Ms. Clifford, and let people know where they are sooner. The blurb could maybe say, “…isolated outback town…” or “…isolated Australian town…,” and maybe the bus could travel through the outback, or New South Wales, or Queensland, or when she got to school maybe “the shrimp could have been gone from the barbie.” Something those of us reading up north could have identified with. Otherwise, All These Perfect Strangers is a pretty good read.

Heat Rating:  R for Violence
Length:  416 Pages
Digital Price:  $3.99

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