Thriller Thursday Audio: All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham
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 (Overall): 4.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (January 10, 2023)
Length: 10 hrs
Narrator: Karissa Vacker
This is my second book by Stacy Willingham. I loved her debut A Flicker in the Dark, and I’m happy to report there’s no sophomore slump here with All the Dangerous Things!
The novel follows Isabelle Drake, who opens the story with a heartbreaking speech that she makes at a true crime convention in front of hundreds of fans who have shown up to hear her talk. A year ago, her entire world was upended when her toddler son, Mason, was stolen away in the middle of the night while Isabelle and her husband Ben were fast asleep in the next room. Despite the police working around the clock to find Mason, no trace of the boy or his kidnapper could be found. To prevent the world from forgetting the case lest it goes completely cold, Isabelle has taken to the convention circuit to tell her story to whoever will listen, doing anything to keep Mason’s name in the news, even if Ben—who has since separated from her—thinks it’s completely inappropriate and ghoulish.
But no matter what, Isabelle can’t let go. She has even become an insomniac, her body refusing to let her rest believing it needs to be on constant alert in case Mason comes home. On the return flight back from the convention, she tries to grab a quick nap but is distracted by a passenger in the next seat, a self-professed follower of her case who had also been in attendance for her speech. His name is Waylon Spencer, also the creator and host of a well-known true crime podcast, and he wants to interview Isabelle for his show. After some reluctance, Isabelle agrees, inviting Waylon to her place and letting him review all the evidence the police had gathered. Together, they work to solve the mystery of what happened to Mason that night, with Isabelle also looking back on her foggy memories of the past year as well as beyond that to a painful loss in her childhood.
Considering how many threads there were, and there were at least three—the main storyline that takes place in the present, a past narrative that follows Isabelle as a child growing up with her sister and her parents, as well as a third timeline that explains how she and Ben met and got married—All the Dangerous Things was like an unstoppable force with a driving plot that was full of unexpected twists.
The character of Isabelle was also a fascinating study. The intro sets her up as a sympathetic figure—a mother who is heartsick at the abduction of her son, who is determined to do anything to get him back. Her life is in shambles, with a husband who has left her because he can no longer deal with the search for Mason has consumed her entire life. Ben believes their son is dead, but Isabelle cannot—will not—consider that possibility. Because of her obsessive hunt, she’s unable to sleep. She’s slowly losing her grip on reality because of the sleep deprivation, her memories are a blur, making her one hell of an unreliable narrator. As her suspicions about her creepy neighbor legit, or are they just a part of her imagination? Why is she working so hard to pursue all avenues except the very one that should be staring her right in the face? Does that massive blind spot have something to do with what she is denying to herself?
As the story gradually unfolds, we find out there’s definitely more to Isabelle than meets the eye. She wasn’t the perfect wife, or the perfect mother. She’s done some regrettable things in her life. And there’s a big secret in her past, from when she was just a girl, that might have a lot to do with—and may explain a lot—about her current sleeping disorders. There’s just so much going on, red herrings flying all over the place and much potential for false leads. This was a story that kept me guessing, and at the end when the answers all came at once, I didn’t even mind the way they hit me like a ton of bricks. Things might have wrapped up a little bit too quickly, a little too conveniently, but I was still impressed with the climax and how everything resolved.
All this is to say, Stacy Willingham can sure write some exhilarating thrillers. I think I’ve found another favorite author.