“All the Lovely Children,” by Andrew Nance

Andrew Nance

Reviewed by Claire Hamner Matturro

Andrew Nance does two difficult things in All the Lovely Children (Red Adept, 2018), and he does both exceptionally well. First, he infuses the often formulaic serial killer subgenre with fresh, new energy by providing innovative twists, a setting that juxtaposes beauty and horror, and sharp, clean writing. Second, he essentially writes two books in one; each story line is equally captivating with suspense that builds naturally to an unpredictable climax.

In All the Lovely Children, the two-stories-in-one are connected across a 23-year span by the protagonist Charly Bloom, a woman detective who faced down a serial killer as a youngster. As readers first meet Charly, someone is snatching girl children in Temperance, North Carolina, in the autumn of 1982. The town is filled with tourists seeking the red and gold leaves of the mountains, and an unlucky child of out-of-town visitors disappears from a park. Four girls are missing when Charly gets a call asking for her help in stopping the abductions and murders.

The twist is that 23-years ago, in 1959, someone began snatching girls in Temperance. Charly, a tomboy, along with her two best friends, Bobby and Micah Lee, are just beginning to enjoy a lazy, innocent summer of baseball and swimming holes, when a meteoroid shower—or something like that—flashes through the heavens. Soon after, news hits that someone abducted a young girl at night from her bedroom through an open window. Charly dubs the villain “the Stalker.” As other girls disappear, the local sheriff misses clues. Charly—an avid reader of detective novels with a quick and inquisitive mind—spots some of the overlooked clues. This puts her at odds with the inept sheriff, who is more chagrined than grateful for her help. In turmoil over the missing girls and lacking faith in the sheriff, Charly decides to actively investigate, dragging Bobby and Micah Lee into a search for the missing girls. Her impulsiveness and headstrong determination to find the Stalker will, naturally, end quite badly for all.

As the 1959 storyline builds suspense chapter by chapter, Nance carefully weaves in the 1982 plot in which a grown-up Charly—still quick-minded, athletic, and inquisitive, but emotionally and physically scared after her 1959 clash with the Stalker— is invited back to Temperance. Now in her thirties, she is a private detective and a veteran of the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigations.

Some of the folks Charly knew as a young teen are still in town and willing to help her. Others are gone. She learns that, just as in 1959, a meteorite—or something like it—has crossed over Temperance. The bungling sheriff from 1959 is long departed, replaced by Kit, a competent and caring man—and Charly’s former lover. Kit, overwhelmed by what is happening, hires Charly to come back and join his team to stop the 1982 killer. He believes in her detective skills, but he also has an ulterior motive in calling her back home.

Despite the inherent difficulties of the dual structure Nance employs, he demonstrates both his skill as a writer and his vivid imagination. He peoples both eras with compelling characters, some of whom populate the two time frames. For example, in 1959, an alcoholic writer, a disabled man, and a Native American man are central to the developing drama. By 1982, the writer is a recovering alcoholic, the Native American suffers from dementia, and the disabled man is gone from the story. In the 1982 story, a motorcycle gang, a bed-and-breakfast owner, and a restaurant staffer add new dimensions to the story—and compound the suspect list.

Given the similarities between the kidnapping and killing of children in Temperance in 1959 and 1982, the suspect list is more bedeviling in this story than in most. There seems to be some connection between the two snatchers, but what? Or is the 1982 villain just a copycat? Is it even possible it’s the same killer? And is the meteorite shower significant or just an eerie coincidence?

While the characters and the mystery are key to All the Lovely Children, there’s also a bit of romance. Nance flips the clichés in her depiction of the troubled romance between Kit the sheriff and Charly the detective.

All in all, Nance has done a marvelous job, his language crisp and fresh, his world-building authentic, and his pacing just fast enough to keep readers at the edge of their seat while still enjoying the ride.

Nance is an award-winning author of young adult books, including Daemon Hall (Henry Holt Books for Young Readers), which was named an American Library Association Quick Pick for the Reluctant Reader, a New York Library Book for the Teen Age, and nominated for an Edgar Award in YA and an ALA Teens Top 10 for 2008.  In addition to writing, Nance is an actor and amateur historian. He spent over 20 years working in the radio industry and still volunteers at a St. Augustine, Florida, college radio station. He lives in St. Augustine with his family.

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