Book Review: The Other People by C.J. Tudor
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 4 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Ballantine Books (January 28, 2020)
Length: 288 pages
C.J. Tudor has done it again with The Other People—another twisty, creepy, suspenseful page-turner that leaves your gut wrenched and heart pounding. This is her third novel, and like the others, it is a dark psychological thriller, stark and raw in its honesty and emotion in the face of life’s harsh realities, yet it also leaves something scratching at the back of your mind, teasing at the possibility of something more supernatural and sinister at play.
The story begins with an introduction to our protagonist Gabe, an overworked husband and father who recognizes deep down that his time away is likely hurting his relationship with his wife Jenny and their young daughter Izzy. It’s the reason he made a solemn promise to his family that he would be home early that day, and yet it appears the bumper-to-bumper traffic in the rush-hour commute is about to make a liar out of him—again. To take his mind off the time and his frustration, Gabe turns his attention to reading the gaudy bumper stickers on the rusty old junk bucket in front of him, but then notices the face of a small, frightened child suddenly appear in its rear window. It is only a brief flash, but Gabe would recognize the girl anywhere, with her pigtails and bright eyes and the gap in her mouth from a recently lost tooth. It’s his five-year-old daughter Izzy. And the last he sees of her is in the back of that old car, mouthing one word: “Daddy.”
Fast forward a few years and Gabe is alone and the life he once knew is gone—shattered the day he saw that car drive off with Izzy. Unable to give chase due to the horrendous traffic, he had returned home to find police crawling all over his house, telling him his wife and daughter had been murdered in a burglary. But Gabe was sure he saw Izzy that day, in spite of what witnesses and the coroner’s report might say. He knew his little girl had to be alive and was still somewhere out there, waiting to be found. He vowed he would never give up until he found her, and so he spends his days driving up and down that same stretch of highway, hoping to catch a glimpse of that car with its bumper stickers that has haunted his dreams every day for the last three years. Eventually, his search does bear fruit—though perhaps not the kind he wanted. Vague hints lead him to the dark corners of the internet, where he learns of a group who call themselves The Other People. If you’ve lost a loved one, The Other People claim, they can help. All they ask for is a favor in return.
As always, the draw of Tudor’s novels is the way they hook you so thoroughly. It always starts with the characters, who have deeply complex backgrounds, but sometimes the whole truth isn’t made clear until much later. This was definitely the case with The Other People. We have Gabe, a tortured soul who tragically lost his family, and the only thing that gives him reason to go on is the belief that his daughter is still alive. Everyone else has given up on him, dismissing his obsession as a symptom of his grief and delusion. I won’t lie, the author’s books tend towards darkness, with an atmosphere of hopelessness and despair. I felt Gabe’s pain like a gut punch, especially as a parent. It was easy to sympathize because he was so desperate, dejected, and broken. Then there was Kate, a waitress at a service station diner he frequently stops by on his drives up and down the motorway. Kate herself is a stressed out single mom working long hours to make ends meet. She’s also lonely and unhappy, but she sees how Gabe is and hopes that one day he will find what he’s looking for. And finally, there is Alice, whom we know the least about. She and her mom Fran are on the run from something, but she’s never told what. All Alice knows is that they must remain hidden, and that’s why they’ve moved from place to place, never setting down roots anywhere, for as long as she can remember.
And that brings us to the other aspect of C.J. Tudor’s books that make them so riveting: the mystery. It digs itself into your skin and settles into your bones. You keep turning the pages because you just need to know what everything is building up to—the whys, whats, and hows. Why are Alice and Fran on the run? What exactly did Gabe witness in the car that day? How could he have seen Izzie if she had been murdered, as the police say? And of course, the biggest mystery of all: Who are The Other People? The pieces of this puzzle will fall into place eventually, but on the journey to this point there will be questions upon questions to keep you guessing. I’m deliberately being vague to avoid revealing any spoilers, but what I will say is this: all the characters have secrets, and the things they’ve done in the past will be the key. Layer by layer, the narrative will reveal the truth behind all the years of lies and deceit.
All told, I highly recommend The Other People if you enjoy darkly clever psychological thrillers tinged with just a slight hint of supernatural horror. If you’re a fan of C.J. Tudor previous novels, there’s also a good chance you’ll like this one too. I love how they’ve all been quite different in terms of premise and plot, but the amazing characters along with the delicious atmosphere that infuses all her work is what keeps me coming back to her stories.