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Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson
All Unquiet Things - Anna Jarzab 2.5 starsSuppose Season One of Veronica Mars and Rian Johnson’s 2005 neo-noir film ‘Brick’ met in dark alley for a secret liaison, and the result was a book. If you are anything like me, you’d assume that book would be awesome, right? It would be darkly toned, with hardboiled, gutsy characters and razor-sharp dialogue wrapped around a tight, switch-backing plot. You wouldn’t be able to put it down and the grit would be practically leaching off the pages onto your fingers. Despite the clear potential, I’m not sure that All Unquiet Things is that particular lovechild book. Given the synopsis of Anna Jarzab’s debut novel, I think it’s fair to say that some readers would see similarities in terms of genre and themes between this book and the abovementioned television series and film. From Jarzab’s website: All Unquiet Things centers around the murder of teen heiress Carly Ribelli, who was found shot to death a mile from her house in a wealthy Northern California suburb. Carly’s uncle, a dissolute alcoholic, was convicted of the crime, but a year later his daughter still doesn’t believe her father is guilty. Determined to prove his innocence, Audrey Ribelli contacts Carly’s ex-boyfriend, Neily Monroe, the boy who found Carly’s body. She is convinced that he knows more than he thinks about the events that led up to Carly’s death. Despite Neily’s initial reluctance, he and Audrey begin their investigation at the posh private school they attend, identifying prime suspects from among their spoiled classmates and digging up secrets about Carly’s past to get to the truth behind her murder. To her credit, Jarzab has crafted a reasonably tight murder mystery and the care she has taken with her plotting, clues and red herrings shows. It’s a structurally sound novel, so to speak, in that it works as a mystery and the details have been carefully thought out. Information is revealed and withheld with precision in order to keep the story taut and well paced. However, what All Unquiet Things packed in premise and potential, I feel it lacked somewhat in execution. The story is told through the alternating perspectives of Audrey and Neily, and while this works for the purpose of the plot, I didn’t find their respective voices to be particularly distinct. For a large amount of the book, I felt that the two characters blurred into one as they were quite similar in tone, despite the fact that much was made of their difference in lifestyle and background. It’s possible that it was due to this lack of a distinctive quality to the narration that also I found the main characters difficult to emotionally engage with. In fact, this story as a whole failed to resonate with me because I just didn’t connect with the characters or their lives. I kept reading the book out of interest as to how Jarzab would eventually show her hand and reveal the murderer, how she’d pull off the denouement, rather than out of any real investment in Audrey, Neily or even Carly. While I don’t require that I like characters, I’ll admit that my enjoyment of a book hinges largely on how compelling I find them. I would say the attention to minutiae and plotting in the book, while absolutely necessary, also lends the story a slightly.. methodical feel. Rather than darkly atmospheric and gritty, making the most the “noir” aspects of the genre, the prose seemed slightly clinical. Which makes for crisp reading, but not so much for vivid setting and ambiance, which I something I feel that this story could have really played up a lot more than it actually did. Anna Jarzab’s ‘All Unquiet Things’ was well-written, considered and carefully conceived. I will definitely read her further work, as I believe Jarzab will go from strength to strength from her solid debut. However, given the (mostly) unrealised potential for awesome a fairly unscientific measure, I’ll admit and the lack of investment I felt in the characters themselves, this wasn’t off the charts for me in terms of reading enjoyment. Edit: I really like this cover. Creep-tastic.