C.J. Tudor has garnered a shining reputation as a prolific author of psychological thrillers, gaining praise from author heavyweights such as Stephen King and Lee Child. The Other People was my first introduction to C.J. Tudor’s work, after hearing her on a panel speaking passionately about the audiobook adaptations of her previous two novels, The Taking of Annie Thorne (2019) and The Chalk Man (2018).
The Other People follows several characters but primarily our protagonist is Gabe, a man searching for answers after the untimely loss of his wife and daughter. However, while the police and everyone else are convinced Jenny and Izzy are dead, Gabe is adamant he saw Izzy being driven away by a mysterious stranger on the night of the alleged murders, and he makes it his mission to find the car and therefore a trail to his daughter. We also follow Katie, a waitress at one of the service stations Gabe begins frequenting on the motorway after the tragedy, and Fran, a woman on the run with her daughter Alice.
The plot of a novel like The Other People is difficult to examine without ruining the reader’s experience of consuming it in a couple of intense page-turning readathons; it relies on keeping information from the reader and revealing it piecemeal, on the winding and sensational plot turns. The novel opens with Gabe, stuck in a traffic jam and feeling guilty because he is once again going to miss spending time with his wife Jenny and daughter Izzy, and knows there will be dire consequences on his crumbling home life. He’s stuck behind a car on the motorway when he notices a girl he is convinced is Izzy calling “Daddy” and quickly being hidden out of sight. The car alludes him and Gabe later discovers Jenny and Izzy have been murdered at home. However, as well as the sighting of Izzy, several details don’t make sense to Gabe nor the police. Despite this, the family are buried and Gabe tries to move on with his life. Three year later, we find him living out of a camper van and trawling up and down that stretch of motorway, existing in a transitory and depressive state. He has been fruitlessly trying to find the car that took Izzy, convinced it will be a pandora’s box of answers, with the help of a mysterious man called The Samaritan, who convinces Gabe not to end his life and eventually assists him in finding the car. As Gabe begins to uncover more inconsistencies and lies, he must pursue a mysterious dark-web organisation called The Other People who are the key to finding out what happened that fateful night.
Tudor maximises the genre’s appeal; she is skilled at pacing, with short punchy chapters that flit between timelines and perspectives, slowly allowing the reader to piece together the author’s clues, and keeping the reader both gripped and keen to turn the page. Tudor also focuses the novel on the larger themes, returning to ideas of redemption and justice, and family loyalty. Many of the characters are morally dubious, motivated by misplaced loyalty or desire for revenge. There are some poignant discussions of grief and how it affects those left behind, and this is a major revelation in connection with the titular Other People. However, Tudor’s use of such a title is deliciously ambiguous. The novel discusses class and race privilege, another form of social othering, as well as playing with the idea of the afterlife or a supernatural realm. I believe this interpretation is hinted at in the book’s cover which features paper chain figures holding hands, the second figure obscured.
At times the plot seems overdramatic or unbelievable, with unexplained supernatural elements that didn’t gel with the rest of the book. In many ways, this is a crime thriller but the supernatural elements contain horrifying imagery which allows it to straddle the genres of crime and horror.
Tudor’s success in this genre is particularly welcome, as crime thrillers have an unfortunate reputation as the domain of male writers, and the presence of several secondary female protagonists who felt rounded and complex enriched the storyline and worldbuilding. However, I was disappointed to find some pervading tropes of the crime genre such as women in refrigerators – the death of love interest to serve as a man’s motivation for justice and redemption – in the character of Jenny, who is barely on the page but portrayed as somewhat privileged and selfish. Furthermore, the character of Gabe is an archetypal hard-boiled brooding man with secrets, who has lost it all and is seeking redemption after failing in his role as a father and husband. The characters of both Katie and Fran are primarily defined by their roles as mothers and the self-sacrifices they are willing to make for their children.
While I left The Other People unconvinced of some plot elements and with questions about themes only lightly explored, ultimately I found this latest offering from C. J. Tudor to be a tightly-paced and gripping crime thriller-horror hybrid. It touches on the supernatural, but is firmly grounded in the fundamentals of human relationships, and particularly the ideas of familial love, parental sacrifice, and the constant search for redemption and justice in all its beautiful and horrific forms.
The Other People by C. J. Tudor is published by Michael Joseph. Buy the book.