Thriller Thursday: We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin
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: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Ballantine Books | Random House Audio (August 11, 2020)
Length: 352 pages | 10 hrs and 34 mins
Ten years ago, on a strange and fateful night, a small Texas town was rocked by the disappearance of popular high school cheerleader Trumanell Branson and her father. The only clue is a bloody handprint, left behind by the teenager on her house’s front door. Rumors quickly spread that it was murder, perpetrated by Trumanell’s own younger brother Wyatt, who spent years institutionalized afterward, though no one could prove he had any involvement. Another possible witness, Wyatt’s girlfriend Odette, was also gravely injured in a car accident that night, resulting in the loss of her leg. Soon after that, she fled the town, hoping to leave all the trauma and tragedy behind.
However, nearly a decade after the vanishing of Trumanell, Odette finds herself back in town after getting the news of her father’s death. Now a police officer, new developments have motivated Odette to pursue Trumanell’s case and find the truth of what happened. Most still believe that Wyatt is guilty, and the recent rumors of him kidnapping a teenage girl certainly haven’t helped. A trucker by trade, Wyatt insists he had found the young woman dumped by the side of the road in a field of dandelions, and that he had only been trying to help. While Odette isn’t sure what to think, one thing is for certain: there is more to this strange girl than meets the eye, and against all odds, her story may be the key to unlocking the mystery of Trumanell Branson.
This was a haunting novel, with an almost gothic atmosphere in a way. The small-town vibe is all pervasive, made even more claustrophobic by the presence of suspicious neighbors and some of the open hostility towards Wyatt. The story also featured some huge twists—which readers who have read the book will know is a severe understatement. I will not spoil anything here, but I will say there was a rather significant gamechanger about halfway through which sends the plot in an entirely new direction, so I have no doubt this event will be polarizing, though there was also this sense of exhilaration not knowing what’s going to happen next.
The characters were also well done. Odette is cast as a sympathetic figure, made to face the ghosts of her past, but duty demands her to stay resolute and strong. Although she is a good and competent cop, that hasn’t stopped the town’s enmity for Wyatt spill onto her, and to her frustration, she can’t completely deny the soft spot she still has for her old boyfriend either. Even when her work threatens her already rocky marriage, she cannot stop digging for the truth—a tenacity that ultimately proves dangerous and to be a double-edged blade. Yet you can’t help but feel for her, because of the lengths she goes to for Angel, the lost teen who was found in the field.
The author Julia Heaberlin strictly controls how much she wants to give away. Her writing also reflects this in the deliberate way her prose is constructed, with imagery and descriptions carefully chosen to create a certain atmosphere, injecting so much feeling into the setting and not just to the characters. Perhaps the pacing could have been more even, since it did get a bit jerky in places but sluggish in others, but overall Heaberlin did a great job building the mystery and making the suspense and danger feel even more real.
Unfortunately, this is the kind of book where revealing any kind of detail is like stepping onto a minefield of potential spoilers, so I hesitate to say any more. But if you’re wondering what my final verdict is, I’ll end with this: if you can accept the huge gamechanger that drops about midway through, and handle the murky aftermath that comes in its wake, then We Are All the Same in the Dark may well work for you.