Review: All the Beautiful Lies by Peter Swanson

“People hate to see other people happy. Remember that.”



William Morrow | 2017

Filed Under: Wears polo shirts for the fashion, and eats oatmeal because he thinks it tastes good.

For someone who has never read Peter Swanson before and casually likes to pick up a psychological thriller every now and again, this book will probably seem like a win.

But for someone (ya girl) who has read Peter Swanson before and been blown away but how he weaves a story, and also spends a lot of her time reading this particular genre, All The Beautiful Lies was a big ol’ *fart noises* letdown.

I’m coming away from the reading experience wondering “what was the point of this?” To be thrilling? To be thought-provoking? To be emotionally stirring? To be a commentary on inappropriate relationships? It seemed to have aspirations to be all of those things, but the execution was sub-par, leaving the ideas undeveloped and abandoned on the page.

You read a thriller for the crazy plot twists, the adrenaline rush and the excitement of being immersed in a situation that is not likely to happen in real life (I mean, hopefully.) This novel is billed as a thriller but it was pretty ho-hum, straightforward. No twists to be found or rush to be felt. Although it was crazier than typical real life, it relied too heavily on the “passing down” of pedophilic tendencies (as each child victim became an adult,) for me to connect emotionally with the characters or even want to allow myself to get too close to this story. It was too uncomfortable, an odd and passive “normality” given to the concept through the prose.

disgusted raising hope GIF

Despite this, I kept reading, waiting for something exciting to happen. There was anticipation I was building for myself because something had to happen, right? It was a Peter Swanson novel after all. It wouldn’t just be dull, would it? Apparently, yes.

Okay, sure some people died and there was a whodunnit element to that, but the suspense that could have been built around this was completely diluted by the NOW and THEN style chapters. Because there was little emotional connection between myself and the players given the adult/child relationships, the unlikability of everyone, and the THEN chapters didn’t interest me.

In the THEN, we learn about Alice and Jake and Alice’s mother. I think it was meant to have a sinister feel to it, an idea that Alice isn’t quite so innocent but perhaps a psychopath of some degree, but she wasn’t intelligent enough or interesting enough to be a fascinating villain. Instead, she just comes across as kind of off, able to convince herself of things that helped her cope, without any consequences or crack in the veneer. I mean, that’s just fucking boring. And when it wasn’t, it was uncomfortable to read about how much she wanted her stepdad’s dick.

Also, the attempts to “explain” the inappropriate relationships – to give some context to why a man would sleep with a young girl (because an older woman slept with him) – just stop. Like I don’t give a shit? These people were fucking pedophiles. Why is there an attempt to manufacture sympathy?

no shut it down key and peele GIF by 2017 MTV Video Music Awards

In the NOW, Harry, the son of Alice’s dead husband, is confused, albeit slightly disinterested, in his father’s death, fretting instead about school and work and all these girls that randomly pop into his life. The lack of mourning these characters did over the death of a patriarch was odd, another emotional disconnection for me. There were some tears, but mostly Harry focused on his attraction to Alice, and Alice focused on how she had married Harry’s father literally just to get close to his teenage son. Again, what the fuck?

There was supposed to be this thread of mystery surrounding Harry’s father’s death. Was it an accident or not? Was Alice a reliable character or not? Was there a twisty sinister truth about to blow the reader’s mind? I guess the answer to those questions is “kind of, but not really.” All of those concepts were started but never followed through on.

“I’m deeply skeptical of any book that doesn’t begin with a corpse.”

Harry had heard his father say these exact words, or something close to them, many times. “No, really. Why?”

His father frowned, thinking. “It’s a religion, I guess, since I don’t have a real religion. The world is chaos, and then a detective comes along and restores order. Or he doesn’t, and that’s really my favourite kind of mystery story.”

We had a detective investigating the death of Harry’s father and we had Alice, who we know is a little coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs because of her THEN chapters, but the atmosphere fell flat for me when it came to crime fiction intrigue and suspense. Instead of something built on suspicions that became increasingly dangerous, we had Harry walking around going “Hmm, I’m confused? That’s weird, huh?” about everything that happened. It completely killed the mood.

If Harry’s alarm was to increase, the reader’s alarm would have increased. But Harry never really got involved with the idea that maybe his father was murdered. He never seemed to care. He dictated this flat, indifferent feeling in every chapter he appeared in, because not only were his reactions to things blah, he was blah himself. Very drab and boring, lacking a distinctive personality.

I couldn’t figure out if I should be interested in the events or not. I couldn’t pinpoint if there was a thriller element to this, or if it was a lacking character study on taboo relationships. And then randomly someone dies without build-up, so you’re left thinking, “well that’s weird, huh?” just like Harry. Instead of being shocked or excited for the story to escalate

This had the potential to be another decent thriller from Swanson, but instead, it reads like it’s only partially written. Overall it’s sparse with flat characters and weak development, and sympathetic themes of sexual assault and predatory violence overshadowing whatever suspense and intrigue that was trying to break through, bound together in a pretty package.

Decidedly not for moi.


Harry Ackerson has always considered his step-mother Alice to be sexy and beautiful, in an “other worldly” way. She has always been kind and attentive, if a little aloof in the last few years.

Days before his college graduation, Alice calls with shocking news. His father is dead and the police think it’s suicide. Devastated, he returns to his father’s home in Maine. There, he and Alice will help one another pick up of the pieces of their lives and uncover what happened to his father.

Shortly after he arrives, Harry meets a mysterious young woman named Grace McGowan. Though she claims to be new to the area, Harry begins to suspect that Grace may not be a complete stranger to his family. But she isn’t the only attractive woman taking an interest in Harry. The sensual Alice is also growing closer, coming on to him in an enticing, clearly sexual way.

Mesmerized by these two women, Harry finds himself falling deeper under their spell. Yet the closer he gets to them, the more isolated he feels, disoriented by a growing fear that both women are hiding dangerous—even deadly—secrets . . . and that neither one is telling the truth.

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