57 pages 1 hour read

Stacy Willingham

All the Dangerous Things

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2023

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Summary and Study Guide


All the Dangerous Things (2023) is a thriller novel by Stacy Willingham that follows recent insomniac Isabelle Drake as she attempts to find her son, Mason, who was kidnapped from his bedroom one year prior. Isabelle’s grudging partnership with true crime podcaster Waylon Spencer leads her down new paths and makes her question everyone’s culpability—including her own. She grapples with her memory and perception, examining the traumatic death of her sister during their childhood as she reconciles her own experience of motherhood.

Willingham was educated in Georgia and continues to live in the south as of All the Dangerous Things’s publication, providing her with regional knowledge for the novel’s setting. All the Dangerous Things is her second novel; her first, A Flicker in the Dark (2022), was a New York Times bestseller.

This guide is based on the 2023 First Edition Hardcover edition of the book.

Content Warning: All the Dangerous Things depicts emotional abuse, miscarriage, postpartum psychosis, and child death. It also references drug abuse and suicide.

Plot Summary

Isabelle Drake suffers from insomnia the year following the disappearance of her son, Mason. She attends a true crime convention, serving as the keynote speaker to keep her son’s case active. On the plane ride home, she meets Waylon Spenser, a true crime podcaster. Once home, Isabelle resumes her investigation into Mason’s disappearance. Isabelle has a flashback to her childhood, in which her younger sister Margaret expresses discomfort with Isabelle’s sleepwalking.

The next day, Isabelle is visited by her former boss and separated husband, Ben. He expresses his disapproval of her keynote speech and then tells her that he has started seeing someone. He departs after confirming they are attending Mason’s vigil together, a ceremony to honor the one year since his disappearance. Isabelle reflects on meeting Ben at an oyster bar seven years prior after moving to Savannah, Georgia, to start a new job at The Grit magazine. She looks herself up on the internet and reads the comments left on an article about her speech. As she leaves for the vigil, she remembers a moment from her childhood when her mother reacted to Margaret naming her doll Eloise. At the vigil, Isabelle encounters Detective Dozier, who assures her that police officers will be present and warns her against acting impulsively. She also speaks to a coworker from The Grit named Kasey, who invites Isabelle to drink. After the ceremony, Isabelle seeks refuge in a cathedral and almost attends a group grief counseling session. Instead, she emails Waylon, the true crime podcaster.

In the past, a young Isabelle and Margaret have a tea party; Margaret wonders if Isabelle’s sleepwalking is related to an event that their parents told them not to talk about. In the present, Isabelle takes sleeping pills but is unable to sleep. She sees a comment on the article about her that claims Mason is “in a better place” (72). She sends the article to Detective Dozier before leaving to meet with Waylon, and the two discuss Mason’s case. When Isabelle returns home, she sees that the ominous comment has been deleted. She takes a walk to relieve her agitation and sees an unfamiliar neighbor sitting on a porch. Later, she realizes that the old man has a clear view of Mason’s window from where he sits. The next morning, Waylon arrives at Isabelle’s house, and the two record a podcast episode about Mason’s disappearance. Waylon reveals that he became involved in true crime after his sister was murdered; Isabelle believes Waylon is helping her for the right reasons. Isabelle receives a text from Kasey, inviting her for drinks. This sparks a memory of when Isabelle met Allison, Ben’s first wife, at an office party before she died by suicide. When Waylon informs Isabelle that he is leaving Savannah due to the cost of his hotel room, she invites him to stay with her.

Isabelle remembers when the air conditioning broke in her childhood home, leading her and Margaret to spend the night in the same room. In the present, Isabelle confesses to Waylon that she and Ben were having an emotional affair before Allison’s death by suicide. This causes tension between them, as Waylon comments that it’s strange that Ben lost both a wife and a son; Isabelle defends Ben. Waylon suggests looking at old baby monitor footage of Mason; though the monitor was dead the night of Mason’s disappearance, there may be clues preceding his kidnapping. Isabelle sees a video of herself sleepwalking into Mason’s room. This brings back a childhood memory of her waking up with mud behind her ear and dirty towels on the floor of her bathroom. When she goes downstairs to find her parents, they tell her that Margaret had an accident and the police are on their way. In the present, Isabelle realizes the parallels between Margaret’s death and Mason’s disappearance.

The next morning, Isabelle and Waylon go downtown and see Ben with his new girlfriend, a woman who resembles both Allison and Isabelle. Isabelle remembers kissing Ben in the bushes during Allison’s memorial; they later consummated their relationship, but Ben insisted that Isabelle keep it a secret for the time being. Waylon allegedly goes to the police station to interview Detective Dozier, but Dozier visits Isabelle and questions her about the online article and her interactions with her neighbors. As he leaves, Isabelle insists she did not hurt Mason. In the past, Isabelle is questioned by the chief of police (regarding Margaret’s accident) but feigns ignorance as per her father’s coaching. However, she believes she lured Margaret into the marshes while sleepwalking. In the present, Waylon claims to have interviewed Detective Dozier, which Isabelle knows to be impossible because Dozier was speaking with her. She makes an appointment with her sleep specialist, and they discuss sleepwalking and rare instances of unconscious homicide. Isabelle’s doctor warns her of the dangers of not sleeping, which include hallucinations and paranoia.

At home, Isabelle pretends to be sick, locking herself in her room until Waylon goes to sleep. She then searches his belongings and finds evidence that he has been researching her for a long time, including an article about Margaret’s death. Distressed, she takes her dog outside and sees the old man on her neighbor’s porch. Isabelle confronts him, and he tells her that they have known each other for two years but that the last time he saw her, she had Mason with her. She returns home and accidentally wakes Waylon, but they delay their conversation until morning. She watches a video of herself sleepwalking and picking up Mason from his crib. Isabelle remembers Ben pressuring her into freelance reporting so they could be together, as he was her boss at the time. She subsequently decided to stop taking birth control without telling Ben, resulting in her pregnancy with Mason.

The next morning, Isabelle reveals her investigation of Waylon. When he tells her that Mason could have only been taken by someone familiar, she kicks him out, believing he blames her for Mason’s disappearance. She goes to Ben’s condo and finds him there with his new girlfriend, Valerie; she recognizes Valerie as the grief counselor in charge of the grief counseling group she almost attended. Isabelle asks Ben to confirm if she had something to do with Mason’s disappearance, but he refuses to answer. She then travels to Beaufort to confront her parents about her role in Margaret’s death; her parents refuse to discuss the event. Later that night, Isabelle goes to her mother’s studio and finds a painting depicting her and Margaret being led into the marshes by their mother. Her mother appears and confesses that she killed Margaret because of postpartum psychosis following the stillborn birth of her third daughter, Eloise. Isabelle realizes the parallels between her mother’s actions and her own dark impulses during Mason’s infancy.

After leaving her parents’ house, Isabelle realizes that Waylon is familiar, that he is Allison’s younger brother. She and Waylon meet, and Waylon voices his belief that Ben either murdered Allison or manipulated her into overdosing when she became pregnant. When Waylon heard about Mason’s disappearance, he approached Isabelle hoping to uncover additional evidence. Isabelle later travels to Ben’s condo and waits for him to leave. She then follows Valerie to her house. Isabelle expresses her belief that Ben was involved with Mason’s disappearance, and Valerie tries to kick her out. Isabelle spots some photographs and realizes that Ben and Valerie have been together for years. Valerie finally confesses a role in kidnapping Mason, taking him to a woman who could not bear children. Isabelle attacks Valerie, and in their tussle, Valerie hits her head on a glass table.

Two days later, Detective Dozier visits Isabelle, asking her questions about her relationship with Valerie before revealing that Ben has been arrested for murdering her. The main evidence against him is a signet ring found beneath Valerie’s couch, which Isabelle planted. Dozier also shares a name that came up during the investigation. Isabelle recognizes the name as one of the true crime convention attendees. The next week, Isabelle visits Ben in prison, where she pressures him to confess to Allison’s murder.

Some time later, Isabelle and Waylon finish recording a podcast episode about Allison’s murder. After Waylon departs, Isabelle opens the door to Mason’s nursery, where he sits up in bed and smiles at her.