Fresh Blood

Name: Jennifer Lane

Title of Book: All Our Secrets

'...the most touching and brutal novel I have read this year…'

A girl called Gracie. A small town called Coongahoola with the dark Bagooli River running through it.

The Bleeders — hundreds of ‘Believers’ who set up on the banks of the river, who start to buy up the town and win souls.

The River Children — born in the aftermath of the infamous River Picnic. They begin to go missing, one after another.

Gracie Barrett is the naively savvy spokesperson for her chaotic family (promiscuous dad, angry mum, twins Lucky and Grub, Elijah the River Child and fervent, prayerful Grandma Bett), for the kids who are taken, for the lurking fear that locks down the town and puts everyone under suspicion.

Gracie is funny and kind, bullied and anguished, and her life spirals out of control when she discovers she knows what no one else does: who is responsible for the missing children.

Narrated by twelve-year old Gracie, Lane’s novel immediately has an innocent, questioning feel to her prose perfectly mirroring a child who feels in that ‘in-between’ stage when no longer feeling as a child, but not quite an adult. There is much she doesn’t understand as the adults around her talk euphemistically, trying to keep the truth from the children, Gracie and Elijah (the twins being too young to understand), but the truth is something that cannot be kept secret for long.

Even though some of the children who go missing and then found dead are not true friends, it upsets Gracie’s world as her safe town is no longer such a thing. Lane perfectly hits the right notes in her debut, bringing a child’s innocence within touching distance of the dark and disturbing events.

I am not saying this is equal to Lee’s iconic novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, but there are definite ripples here from an author who reveres Lee’s novel. Lane wonderfully brings her characters to life, especially with Grandma Bett who appears to be the spiritual compass of Gracie’s fractured family. Others who stand out are chain-smoking Mrs Irwin and Mrs Lothum with her bright orange hair. Even Gracie’s mother has her own part as she gets deeper with the cult, ‘The Bleeders’ in desperation to find direction with the breakdown of her marriage. This leads to Gracie feeling she is never going to be ‘one of the better girls’ and be even more of a pariah as her mum’s connection with the cult become common knowledge, which doesn’t help Gracie’s social paranoia and angst. Lane conveys this very well without melodrama.

‘All Our Secrets’ is a beautiful written and emotional novel, Lane perfectly describes a small town in turmoil and suspicion as the murders continue and the ending had me quite choked up! This is such an assured novel, it is quite amazing it is Lane’s first. This really is an emotional rollercoaster. I could say so much more, but would be in fear of giving anything away, so I will simply say that this is the most touching and brutal novel I have read this year… and now you must read it, too!

Reviewed by: C.S.

CrimeSquad Rating

Fresh Blood Questionnaire

1) Gracie is a twelve-year-old girl who is on the cusp of being a woman, but feels that with her flat chest and home cut hair is being left behind by the other girls in her year. The year is 1983. Why did you place your debut in the early 80s and what was it about Gracie that made you want to tell your story from her perspective?
I grew up in the 80s so it felt like a natural background for All Our Secrets. I enjoyed the nostalgia of revisiting those times – before the internet and mobile phones, when there was a choice of only two TV channels (in my town, anyway) and the country’s leader held the world record for beer drinking (after sculling 2.5 pints in 11 seconds!). Life seemed to be simpler back then and I think kids had more freedom. A novel set in today’s world would be quite different.

I wanted to tell the story from a young girl’s point of view because it’s less black and white. Gracie’s smart, but she’s also naïve – she only sees part of the picture. As the story progresses and she grows, she understands more and more of what’s going on around her. This makes for exciting story telling.
2) There are overtones of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and it is one of the books Gracie is reading during all the turbulence in her town. Was this a deliberate homage to Harper Lee’s classic?
It wasn’t a conscious homage but I’m flattered by the suggestion that All Our Secrets has overtones of one of my favourite books. To Kill a Mockingbird was probably the first ‘grown-up’ book I read as a child and it had a big impact. I loved the character Boo Radley, the mystery behind him, and how the kids fantasised about luring him out of his house. I also liked peering into a dangerous adult world through a child’s eyes. It was the first book I’d read that delved into racism and possibly the first story I read that mentioned rape. For a 12-year-old it was an eye opener.
3) There is a lot of prejudice against The Believers or ‘The Bleeders’ as the locals call them, a group accused of being a cult who have moved in to the area just before the killings start. What was it about this religious group that needed it to be included in ‘All Our Secrets’?
I find cults fascinating. The town I grew up in had its very own cult, which both intrigued and scared me, and I must have stored it in my mind for future use. And what better way to create havoc in a small town than to set loose carloads of religious fanatics!

One of the other characters – Gracie’s Grandma Bett – is also devoted to her religion (Catholicism), yet considers the Believers to be ‘crackpots’, which is an irony Gracie sees through.

Also, there must be a lot of religious guff trapped in my head as a result of my own Catholic upbringing. I didn’t plan to have any religion in my novel – it just appeared!
4) There is humour sprinkled throughout your novel. Do you think this is important in a crime thriller?
The humour wasn’t deliberate, but it definitely made the novel more fun to write and I don’t think it would have worked so well without it. I think it’s important because it helps lighten the tone in what would otherwise be a very bleak story – children disappearing, a dysfunctional family and a town in turmoil. Where’s the fun in that?

I think humour is important in real life too. Bad stuff happens, so it helps to see the funny side of things.
5) You have been short-listed for the Ngaio Marsh Debut Crime Novel 2018. How does this feel to have your novel up for this award? What is next on the agenda for Jennifer Lane?
I’m very excited to be a finalist. ‘All Our Secrets’ isn’t a traditional ‘crime novel’ and I didn’t set out to write a thriller, but I love mysteries and I’m pleased I inadvertently managed to pull one off! It’s a real honour to be recognised as a writer in the crime/thriller/mystery genre.

Since launching ‘All Our Secrets’ I’ve written a couple of short stories and am now getting back into my second novel, which I started a while ago. I’ve also just (today!) been talking to a publisher about releasing All Our Secrets in Australia, which is very exciting.
6) Are you a fan of crime fiction? If so, which three crime novels would you like with you if stranded on a desert island?
I’d quite like to be stranded on a desert island just so I can get around to finishing writing the novel I just mentioned!

But, yes, I’m a fan of all kinds of books, including crime. My top three picks would be:

Burial by Neil Cross – I really enjoyed all of Neil Cross’s books but Burial sticks in my mind as a page-turner (and it also happened to be a Ngaio Marsh finalist in 2010). I could learn a lot from Neil, particularly through his sparse use of words.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson – Kate Atkinson is a great writer and Case Histories is my pick from her Jackson Brodie crime series. Her writing is so lively and humorous – and her characters so quirky and real – I’d happily read her books again and again.

The Long Drop by Denise Mina – I haven’t read this yet, but I’m sure I’d appreciate having a ‘new’ book to indulge in during my period of isolation. I’ve heard great things about The Long Drop and intend to read it before seeing Denise Mina at the WORD Christchurch Festival next month.