All the Lovely Children by Andrew Nance is at least two mystery novels in one and some readers might count it as three. Two mysteries are different in time but similar in type of crime. The third mystery is the surprise ending. It is a shocker and one of those endings I cannot see anyone predicting.
Everything revolves around Charly Bloom. Nance uses Charly to present the first two mysteries in tandem for the reader. The forty-two chapters have titles that alternate between the Summer of ’59 and the Autumn of ’82. Charly presents the first mystery as reminiscences of events in 1959 while she is working on a similar series of crimes in 1982, the present time for this novel. Four girls died in 1959 when Charly was thirteen years old. The Sheriff of Temperance in the past was incompetent. The Sheriff of today has a history with Charly. Charly was a “Nancy Drew” type as a teenager. She felt that she and her friends Bobby and Micah Lee could do a more thorough investigation than Sheriff Rysdale. Ultimately, they were right as Charly discovered and killed the kidnapper known as the Snatcher. This is not a spoiler because readers do not know who the Snatcher is. Charly will not reveal this element of her memory until near the end of the novel.
Charly will tease the readers with her knowledge of the identity. The new sheriff, Kris, remembers Charly’s contributions in the past that led to the former serial killer’s death. Now that the killings have begun again with the same methods of torture, cruelty, and ultimately death, Kris invites Charly home to Temperance to assist in the investigation. After her departure from Temperance, Charly had gone into a career of law enforcement with the SIB (State Investigative Bureau) but had been forced to resign over office politics issues. In her work with the new Sheriff, Kit, and as she reveals her thoughts and memories to former friends, Charly makes remarks that will tease the reader about the earlier killings. A typical remark: “Of course if any of us had thought to think logically, we would have caught the killer earlier. It was obvious.”
It is not obvious to the reader and the identity of the 1959 killer is one of the early surprises of the novel. There are enough distractors that I was surprised. But that earlier killer died. It cannot be the same one abducting young girls today. The new one is named “Copycat.” Charly does not know this one in present-day 1982. She and the reader will be surprised at the same time.
Just as Charly did when she was a teenager, Charly will be off on her own a lot in her investigation. All her friends criticize her for this. The first killer almost finished Charly’s life; her friends fear this one will succeed. Charly has many allies throughout the novel despite the fact they constantly criticize her efforts. Nance displays rich lives for her characters; some even have descriptive nicknames like Handsome George. Charly has her enemies, of course. Some of the more colorful are in motorcycle gangs and have titles such as “Grizz” and “Preacher.”
Nance’s task in the telling of this story was to not write spoilers of her own plots. This novel does not sink to a humdrum recitation of character flaws that affect story elements in a linear fashion. It is fast-paced and well nuanced with many distractors to keep the reader guessing. I gave this four plus Amazon stars. It is worth much more than the Amazon purchase price of USD 0.99.