The Other People / C J Tudor / Ballantine, 01/20 – $27 (Hardcover)
There is something relentlessly engrossing about a mystery. The suspense, the shock, and finally the catharsis when all the pieces come together create a reading gripping experience that cannot be found elsewhere. The Other People, the most recent novel from C. J. Tudor, takes at its core these elements of the genre and updates them for new readers.
The novel follows the story of several characters wrapped up in the disappearance of a young girl named Izzy. The novel opens with her father, Gabe, witnessing her disappear in an unknown vehicle. He spends the remainder of the novel wandering the roads in search of the daughter whose death he refuses to accept, that opening scene serving as the foundation for his enduring hope that his daughter is still alive. Other characters include the mysterious Samaritan, a mother on the run, and a kind-hearted cafe worker, all of whom end up involved in Gabe’s quest to find his lost child. Beneath it all is the secret of the Other People, a covert group with nefarious objectives and connections to Izzy’s supposed death.
Tudor’s writing is fast-paced and engaging. The short chapter lengths and frequent changes in perspective keep the reader engaged as they jump between the increasingly interrelated plotlines. Each character has a unique voice and Tudor’s use of grounded figurative language enriches both their perspectives and the novel’s ever-shifting settings. Coupled with rich personification, Tudor’s style creates a world where even the smaller details feel vibrant.
Despite a grounded and compelling voice, the novel has a jarring sense of placelessness. Gabe lives out of a camper which he drives between service stations along London’s highways in his endless search for answers. And he is not the only one drifting through the novel. Every scene offers a different location; characters are constantly moving. They rarely meet in the same place, and contexts are always changing. This gives the novel a very different feel from many classic mysteries that are confined to a single town, ancient estate, or scene of the crime. It also speaks to the novel’s interest in exposing a search to find one’s place, community, or family.
No characters have a blemishless life and the past is inescapable throughout The Other People. All the characters come from broken homes, all suffering a fractured sense of belonging. While Gabe is fixated on his inability to save his wife and daughter, drifting alone down the road on an increasingly hopeless and frustraightingly directionless journey, the past haunts other characters as they mourn over lost loved-ones and the rash decisions these losses caused them to make. As the reader gets to know the characters, they can see the long chain of mistakes and desperate acts that set the novel in motion.
This chain represents Tudor’s take on the cruel nature of fate. Characters often make decisions when facing terrible grief with unforeseeable results. Though fate is not some deterministic, mystical force in this work; rather human actions are the cause of future events. Yet even noble efforts sometimes create problems much greater than the ones they were intended to solve. As several characters lament, bad luck can be enough to completely destroy someone’s life. This is where the titular Other People come in.
The Other People are a group lurking in the depths of the dark web that offers a way for those dealing with loss to find the justice that society has denied them. However, this service does not come without a price. Tudor manages to create a believable entity that preys on the vulnerable without resorting to typical over-the-top villainy popularly associated with the dark web and its shadowy organizations. A threat that could only exist in the context of the modern technological climate contrasts well with the novel’s more traditional mystery and supernatural elements. Both serve to create a looming sense of danger by pulling the story in both a knowable and unknowable direction.
“HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE” —a Jean-Paul Sartre quote—opens The Other People, obliquely referencing the novel’s mysterious villains and offering a brief disparagement on human relationships. This quote resonates with the novel as a whole, where anyone could be associated with the Other People and betrayal can come from any direction. However, Tudor does not give readers such a hopeless depiction of interpersonal relations. Loss drives many characters to isolation, but they always face challenges they cannot overcome alone. It is only through trust and cooperation that this novel’s mystery can be solved and the many wrongs of the past righted. Even though other people are responsible for the hardship in this novel, forgiveness and openness ultimately triumphs.
Evan Mortimer is a Junior at Columbia University studying Political Science and English. His favorite kind of story is one that he has not heard before.