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All the Dangerous Things


All the Dangerous Things

Following the release of her instant New York Times bestseller, A FLICKER IN THE DARK, Stacy Willingham returns with ALL THE DANGEROUS THINGS, which is about a mother’s quest to find her missing son and the painful, troubling secrets that lie even further in her past.

“Ladies and gentlemen of TrueCrimeCon, it is my honor to present to you, our keynote speaker...Isabelle Drake!” For the last year, Isabelle has done the circuit of televised news features, searingly honest interviews and true-crime events to discuss the unthinkable: the night her toddler son, Mason, went missing from his crib in her Savannah home with no clues as to who took him or why, and whether or not he is still alive.

Isabelle’s single-minded dedication to finding her son has given her a chronic case of insomnia, turned her into a walking zombie and wrecked her marriage to her husband, Ben. But even though she spends hours reviewing the facts of that night --- the baby monitor and its dead batteries, the open window in Mason’s room, the teddy bear found on the shores of the nearby marsh --- she cannot help but think that she is missing something huge, something crucial, something that only she can use to find out what happened to him.

"In unpacking the complicated depths of motherhood and pairing them with a riveting, ripped-from-the-headlines premise, and a hearty dose of our toxic love of true-crime thrillers, Willingham pens a slow-burn, taut and truly clever suspense novel..."

When we meet Isabelle, it is the one-year anniversary of Mason’s disappearance. Her every move in the last year has been dedicated to finding him, but her anguish has turned unpalatable to the masses, who now seem to find her constant media appearances tasteless. Because of her past career as a journalist, some critics even accuse her of using her son’s story to land a book deal or lengthen her time in the spotlight. Even worse, Ben has just announced that he is moving on and has begun seeing someone, and the local detective assigned to Mason’s case seems to have stopped pursuing any leads.

However, on her flight home from TrueCrimeCon, Isabelle meets true-crime podcaster Waylon Spencer, who tells her that he wants to give her a chance to tell her story one more time. Waylon’s podcast is ranked fifth on the charts, and he has even solved a cold case. But Isabelle knows his kind: vultures who want to swoop in to profit off of the greatest tragedy of her life while poking holes in her already murky memories of what should have been a normal, unremarkable night.

Waylon assures Isabelle that if she agrees to speak to him on his podcast, she will be entering a judgment-free zone. Usually guarded and untrusting, Isabelle agrees to work with Waylon, even inviting him to stay in her home so he can remain local to the case and conduct interviews, review records, and get a better sense of her and her family firsthand.

Feeling seen and heard for the first time since her son went missing, Isabelle both struggles with and delights in Waylon’s probing inquiries. Like anyone living with grief, her moods, memories and habits are irregular and unstable at best, downright unbelievable at worst, and Waylon is not afraid to ask difficult questions about the state of her mind one year ago. But to paint a complete picture of Isabelle as a mother and her life with Mason, Waylon goes even further and starts asking her about her childhood. Although she has tried to avoid it, Isabelle must reckon with the fact that this is not the first time her mind has let her down. As a child, she was a sleepwalker who often woke up with muddy feet and stained nightgowns, scaring her beloved younger sister, Margaret. It is also not the first time that a child has disappeared while she slept.

Alternating between Isabelle’s childhood, the early days of her relationship with her husband, and the recording of Waylon’s podcast and the surrounding investigations, Willingham paints a picture of a desperate, sleep-deprived mother who feels deep down that the disappearance of her child is somehow her fault. But although Isabelle has a history of sleep disorders, this is not your average unreliable narrator trope. Willingham digs deeper into the issues plaguing mothers everywhere: the guilt of resenting a new, totally dependent person in your life, the fear of missing out on your career and social life, and the need to constantly apologize.

In unpacking the complicated depths of motherhood and pairing them with a riveting, ripped-from-the-headlines premise, and a hearty dose of our toxic love of true-crime thrillers, Willingham pens a slow-burn, taut and truly clever suspense novel on par with Ashley Audrain’s THE PUSH and the works of Alice Feeney.

Readers who enjoyed A FLICKER IN THE DARK will find even more to love in ALL THE DANGEROUS THINGS: the writing is tighter, the plot twists more shocking, and the emotional impact more bracing. If Willingham wasn’t on your list of must-read authors before, add her now. I have no doubt that her next book will be even more stunning, immersive and mind-bending.

Reviewed by Rebecca Munro on February 4, 2023

All the Dangerous Things
by Stacy Willingham