All Who Wander
By: Joe Clifford
Publisher: Square Tire Books
Publication Date: 09/05/2023
My Rating: 4 Stars (ARC)
One snowy night in 1998, Brooke Mulcahy's car slides off the road in rural Vermont. Her car is discovered. She is not. Twenty-one years later, Robert Kirby, Brooke's stepbrother, is paid a visit from a young woman (Lily), claiming to be Brooke's daughter.
Since a tumultuous upbringing, Robert, formerly known as "Bobby," has enjoyed considerable success.
Now an esteemed professor at a private Upstate New York university, Robert has just received a significant NEH grant. After Lily's visit, Robert's life is upended.
His wife Stephanie reveals she is unhappy in the marriage and takes their teenage son to visit her sister in PA. Brooke's former best friend, Aaron Reardon, still devastated from Brooke's disappearance, offers to help. And forever lurking in the background is Mike Rakowski, Brooke's ex, a possessive, abusive drug addict.
As Robert's world unravels, he revisits that night twenty-one years ago where everything went wrong, unearthing a horrible, bone-chilling secret. In the vein of Simone St. James' Sun Down Motel and other female-driven domestic psychological thrillers today, ALL WHO WANDER mines the depths of past transgression, begging the question: do past sin automatically negate future happiness?
Joe Clifford's ALL WHO WANDER is a dark and disturbing literary, domestic psychological suspense about a troubled young woman who mysteriously disappears during a snowstorm, never to be found again.
PAST: 1998 Vermont. A brutal snowy night. A young woman, Brooke Mulcahny, escapes her nightmare of a life, crossing the border from Massachusetts to rural Vermont. She is running from danger and her past. She was looking for a motel when, due to the weather, she ran off the road and crashed due to the icy roads and blizzard.
From that night, no one had seen her since. A neighbor man stopped by and offered help. She declined. Some cameras showed she may have gotten into a white van. Was she picked up by the serial killer who lived nearby—one who had killed other women?
The author takes us back to Brooke's childhood. Growing up in a highly dysfunctional home, her mom left without a word when she was young. Her father, Paul, was distant and spent most of his time working and drinking. Emotionally distant, he offered them food and shelter, and that was about it.
Her mother showed back up at their door years later with a baby boy, Bobby, from another man. Their life returned to some sense of normal until she told them she had cancer. Her mom left them again, died, and now left them with a boy. A boy that Brooke thought was weird. He just took up space.
As a teen, Brooke got into drugs and all sorts of trouble with men, from the married high school coach to Mike, the drug addict. She was not pleasant to her stepbrother Bobby. She had a best friend, an upstanding, brilliant, friendly Aaron, who adored her, but she was not interested in him as a boyfriend. She was dating a bad boy, a drug addict, controlling and jealous, Mike, also from a bad home environment. Brooke dropped out of nursing school and worked at a nursing retirement home.
Then, with a crazy scheme for money, Brooke with a co-worker and Mike, a drug deal goes down badly. Now Brooke's dad has to put up the house as collateral. No one was there as an influence for Bobby. His mom was always on the run before she died, so he never had a stable upbringing.
From past to present, we learn the events leading up to the night Brooke disappeared. It kept you on the edge, waiting to see what happened the night of the accident.
PRESENT: Now, twenty-one years later, Bobby is all grown up and now going by Robert, an esteemed professor at a private Upstate New York university, he has just received a significant NEH grant and married with son Peter. He has undergone years of therapy to cope with his traumatic past. Can he leave his past behind?
Even though Robert does not owe Paul anything, he purchased Paul's home for him and pays his bills in an assisted living facility, which will not last much longer.
He has always wondered what happened to Brooke. Then, a young woman named Lily appears, claiming to be Brooke's daughter. From here on out, his world becomes unraveled as he investigates further.
Robert's life is out of control; he becomes detached. His wife left with his son to visit her parents for a while. Robert is determined to find out what happened to Brooke. Someone breaks into their home and screws up the dog's vocal cords. He does not believe Lily is Brooke's daughter. Something is up, menacing and sinister.
What happened to Brooke?
Atmospheric, gritty, dark, and compelling ALL WHO WANDER is my first book by Joe Clifford, a talented author. His writing is lyrical, with vivid descriptions, delving deep into the evil human conditions.
Honestly, I was hooked from the first page towards the end UNTIL the book turned to weird Stephen Kingish horror! Until this point, this was 5 Stars, and due to this strange turn, I downgraded it to 4 Stars.
When he brought the characters Robert/Bobby, Mike, and Aaron together —what happened next was just creepy! I was unsure of the purpose of this unless the author was exploring how people change. The good can turn evil, and the evil can turn good, doing a complete 180 and Robert going rogue! Do past sins define you? All the characters were deeply flawed—nature vs. nurture.
I enjoyed the author's lyrical, beautiful writing. The storyline was powerful, thought-provoking, and intriguing until it turned weird and twisted with an ending that was not satisfying. However, I look forward to seeing what comes next from the author.
There are themes of drug use, addiction, violence, abusive relationships, alcoholism, trauma, inner demons, step-siblings, and abuse.
Thanks to Swell Media and NetGalley for a gifted ARC for an honest opinion.
@JudithDCollins | #JDCMustReadBooks
Pub Date: Sept 5, 2023
My Rating: 4 Stars
“Searing and impressively wrought, *All Who Wander* gorgeously depicts the ache and strum of the human heart. Clifford’s novel burns by, balancing frustrated relationships, mystery, self-agency and internal conflict with sweeping power and an unforgettable voice. Clifford’s writing grabs you by the shoulders, wrenches you back to life. A highly impactful, exhilarating novel.”
—Jennifer Maritza McCauley, author of When Trying to Return Home
"An absolute knockout. Clifford reigns supreme as King of New England Noir with this story of knotty family dynamics played out in the setting of a true crime-type tale. Outstanding in its eye for authenticity and the grittiest, dirtiest detail with every character as well as setting, ALL WHO WANDER delivers on all fronts."
— Emily Carpenter, bestselling author of Burying the Honeysuckle Girls and Every Single Secret
"Gritty, COMPELLING & Fearless...a powerful read”
— E.A. AYMAR, ANTHONY-NOMINATED AUTHOR OF NO HOME FOR KILLERS
PRAISE FOR JOE CLIFFORD
“Clifford paints true-to-life characters with the same gritty touch as the best of Dennis Lehane.”
—Author Robert Dugoni on Lamentation
“…gritty and addicting.”
—LitReactor on December Boys
“Taut, pacey and with a powerful sense of place… an intelligent and astutely observed piece of American small town noir.”
—Author Paula Hawkins on The One That Got Away
“Clifford understands human potential for moral collapse and redemption…”
—Publishers Weekly on Lamentation
“…character-driven noir at its finest.”
—Author Jennifer Hillier on Give Up the Dead
“…the kind of wrenching, powerful work that defies easy categorization…”
—Author Jerry Stahl on Lamentation
About the Author
Joe Clifford is the author of several books, including The One That Got Away, Junkie Love, and the Jay Porter Thriller Series, as well as editor of the anthologies Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen; Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash, and Hard Sentences, which he co-edited. Joe’s writing can be found at www.joeclifford.com.
After spending the 1990s as a homeless heroin addict in San Francisco, Joe Clifford got off the streets and turned his life around. He earned his MFA from Florida International University in 2008, before returning to the Bay Area, where he currently lives with his wife and two sons.
His memoir, Junkie Love, chronicles his battle with drugs and was first published in 2010 and re-released in 2018. He is the author of the award-winning Jay Porter Thriller Series, as well as several standalones including The One That Got Away, The Lakehouse, The Shadow People, Say My Name and All Who Wander.
His bestselling Jay Porter Thriller Series (Oceanview Publishing) has received rave reviews from Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, and the San Francisco Chronicle, among many others. Joe is also editor of Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Stories Based on the Songs of Bruce Springsteen and Just to Watch Him Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash. Currently Joe teaches online writing courses for FIU, as well as around the country at various conferences and retreats (or frankly anywhere someone will pay him).