All These Bodies by Kendare Blake

All These Bodies by Kendare Blake. Quill Tree, HarperCollins, 2021. 9780062977168

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Mystery/horror

What did you like about the book?  It’s the summer of 1958 and someone is leaving a string of dead bodies across the upper Midwest in what newspapers are feverishly calling the Dracula Murders.  A helpful map shows us the dates and death toll in Iowa, Nebraska, Wisconsin, and finally Minnesota, where the latest atrocity has taken place in the small town of Black Deer Falls. Michael Jenson, son of the local sheriff and aspiring journalist, is the first person narrator and a friend of Steve Carlson, who’s found murdered along with his parents in their remote farmhouse. Bizarrely, the cops also find a young girl at the scene, covered in thick, red blood while the Carlson family’s veins are empty. Marie Catherine Hale is taken to the town’s tiny jail and will only tell her story to Michael, who finds himself trying to solve the mystery of the murders as he’s falling for Marie. As a state-wide manhunt gets underway, the story takes a turn for the supernatural as Marie reveals more about a mysterious (and missing) companion and creepy events indicate that the “blood drinker” (as Michael dubs him) is still around, haunting the woods and leaving gruesome clues and threats. 

Blake is a great writer and capably builds a claustrophobic and menacing atmosphere. Macabre details abound: secret signs carved into trees and gravestones, a dead snake nailed to the Jenson’s front door, and an unsettling face-to-face encounter with the blood drinker. The author also uses the plot and genre conventions to raise issues about female purity, outsider status, and the role of both storyteller and audience. In an afterwards, Blake acknowledges her debt to Capote’s classic In Cold Blood and the 1958 real-life murder spree of Charles Startweather and Caril Ann Fugate (immortalized in several films, including Badlands and Natural Born Killers). All of the characters in the book cue as White.

Anything you didn’t like about it? No surprise that as with many YA mystery/horror hybrids, I had to suspend disbelief. The level of Michael’s involvement, including spending hours over months in the jail with Marie and even accompanying law enforcement to exhume her mother’s body, stretched my credulity. More problematic was the story’s eventual fizzle after so much smolder. It’s as though Blake, having created this wonderfully horrid tableau, didn’t quite know how to capitalize on all the suspense.  Marie’s final reveal felt underbaked and there’s little dramatic resolution to the fascinating questions raised by Michael’s investigation. Finally, the secondary plot of whether Marie should be extradited to another state or stay in Black Deer Falls to face murder charges distracted from the horror and suspense threads of the novel.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Fans of true crime podcasts and period horror will enjoy this atmospheric and tingly story. Recommended for readers of Stephanie Perkins and Claire Legend. The added plus of this book is the male main character, a real anomaly these days! 

Who should buy this book? High school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? YA fiction, horror if you genre-fy.

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: October 31, 2021

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