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All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham

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It's time for another book review by Don Noble. This week, Don reviews "All the Dangerous Things by Stacy Willingham.

In her hugely successful debut thriller, “A Flicker in the Dark,” Stacy Willingham developed a plot that involved solving crimes from the fairly distant past, putting the spotlight of suspicion on one character after another, with amazing twists and revelations, and a protagonist/narrator, Chloe Davis, herself a psychiatrist, who suffered from a collection of neuroses, including anxiety attacks and insomnia. Isabelle Drake, the heroine/narrator of Willingham’s new novel, “All the Dangerous Things,” hasn’t slept in a year. It has been a year since her toddler, Mason, was abducted, silently, in the middle of the night from their home in Savannah. Neither Isabelle nor her husband, Ben, saw or heard anything. The police investigate, of course, but there are no real clues. It looks like an inside job—no forced doors or broken windows—but with what possible motive? At first Isabelle stayed awake to BE there if Mason returned, or was returned. Then she lost the ability to sleep. No amount of medication or white wine could keep her under. She has had only micro naps for a year. Her nerves are frazzled, and, as is often the case, the strain has damaged her marriage. Ben has moved out. She is indeed a mess.

Isabelle has, understandably, become obsessed. She dedicates her life to finding little Mason. She investigates full-time, is active online, sets up a bulletin-board crime wall in her house and, even though it causes fresh pain every time, speaks to true crime groups. Mason must not be forgotten.

In the first few pages of this rather long book, we learn that even before the abduction, Isabelle suffered from serious sleep disorders. As a child, outside of Beaufort, she walked in her sleep, waking up elsewhere in the house or even outdoors, and remembering nothing about her wanderings. In fact, when they were children, in the summer of 1999, her sister, Margaret, had disappeared one night and, perhaps, wandered off into a nearby swamp, never to be heard from again. Well, that is a nasty coincidence.

As with Chloe in “Flicker,” we and Isabelle, wonder if she could be the guilty party, whether she knows it or not. Of course, as the mother who failed to protect her child, Isabelle feels horribly guilty anyway. As the novel progresses, we learn husband Ben has plenty of dark secrets, and that one of her neighbors is a registered sex offender. Then Isabelle agrees to be the subject of a podcast narrated by Waylon Spenser, who, like all Willingham characters, is not exactly who he purports to be. This is a thriller, and a good one - not a who-done-it in the sense that the reader may interpret the clues and solve the puzzle. We learn as Isabelle learns, and feel her elation and disappointments and fear as she uncovers her own past and the secrets and lies of friends and family.

Don Noble , Ph. D. Chapel Hill, Prof of English, Emeritus, taught American literature at UA for 32 years. He has been the host of the APTV literary interview show "Bookmark" since 1988 and has broadcast a weekly book review for APR since November of 2001, so far about 850 reviews. Noble is the editor of four anthologies of Alabama fiction and the winner of the Alabama state prizes for literary scholarship, service to the humanities and the Governor's Arts Award.