Open up this mystery, “Everything We Didn’t Say” by Nicole Baart, take a trip to small-town America, and visit Jericho, Iowa. This is as small town as America gets, a town where everyone knows each person’s business—or at least thinks they do. In reality, as we learn, there are always secrets that sometimes remain hidden for decades.
The story is told in alternating timelines. It beings with “WINTER: TODAY” which is told in third person narrative from Juniper’s point of view. We learn that Juniper has recently returned to Jericho to help out an old friend who is dying of cancer, and she will be working at the public library and spending time with the daughter she left to be raised by her mother and her stepfather. The past, with chapters headed “SUMMER: 14 AN A HALF YEARS AGO” or simply “THAT NIGHT” are told in first person narrative by Juniper. In these chapters, we learn about a double murder that happened almost fourteen and a half years ago on a hot summer evening, the 4th of July, to be exact. The purpose for this change in narrative is not clear, but it does simplify knowing which Juniper we are reading about: the nineteen-year-old who is getting ready to leave for college and having her first romance, or the almost 35-year-old librarian who has returned to her hometown for many reasons, perhaps the most compelling of which is to find out exactly what happened that long ago 4th of July when the neighboring couple were brutally murdered.
Juniper’s brother, Jonathan, was always considered the main suspect in the crimes although he was never formally charged with the murders. He was the one who called 911 and was found with the gun in his hand and blood on his fingers. But we suspect that Juniper knows more than she has let on. We know that she concocted an alibi for herself, her boyfriend Sullivan, and Jonathan that long-ago night. We don’t know why nor do we know what exactly Juniper saw.
Baart cleverly provides snippets of truth about that time as we try to put all the pieces together into one coherent picture. Why would anyone kill Cal and Becky? Who poisoned their dog? And why, in the present, was Jonathan being targeted? Why was his dog poisoned?
There are many suspects, and we even suspect Juniper herself. We know there are things that she isn’t sharing with us, the readers. To be honest, at times the action moves a bit slowly. But what kept me reading was Baart’s lovely prose. Her writing chops are apparent even in the first paragraph as she describes winter in Jericho: “Bitter and unforgiving as deep February, when frost edged the windows like salt on the rim of a glass.” Be warned that while reading you will crave simple farm food, a hunk of bread slathered with salted butter and raspberry jam preserved by the neighbors.
Baart manages to include a range of issues in the story, as well. There is the problem of industrial agriculture wherein huge corporations are taking over small family farms and putting toxic fertilizers on the earth, poisoning not only the land but the waterways and the aquifer from which communities draw their drinking water. Also: mental illness, obsession, jealousy, marriages of convenience, accidental pregnancies and, ultimately, the brutal murder. And while we might suspect who the murderer is before the final reveal, it doesn’t detract from the ending wherein we learn where all the clues and hints have finally led.
Please note: This review is based on the advance reader’s copy provided by the publisher, Atria Books, for review purposes.