In All That Is Secret by award-winning author Patricia Raybon, it’s 1923, and Professor Annalee Spain receives a cryptic telegram calling her to Denver to solve the mystery of her father’s murder. For a young Black woman, searching for answers in a city ruled by the KKK could mean real danger. Annalee launches her hunt for clues and confronts dangerous truths and beliefs that could make her a victim too. In the Q&A below with Patricia Raybon, learn more about the novel and what inspired it.
Where did the idea for All That Is Secret come from?
A.) From two places. First, I love “clergy” mysteries—Father Brown by G. K. Chesterton, Grantchester, and the like. My hope was to introduce a character wrestling with a faith conundrum into the crucible of a mystery, complicated by two additional things—race and a sometimes-rocky new relationship. Second, I wanted the setting to be Colorado, a beautiful “sunshine” place—but during one of its darkest times, the 1920s. The character who emerged to find her place in that world was young Professor Annalee Spain. Once I “met” her, her story began to emerge.
What kind of research did you do as you began to write?
A.) Big, small, and all. I love history. In fact, historical fiction lives and dies on historical accuracy. So I found myself poring over old Colorado newspapers from the 1920s, the era of my book. With thanks to Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection, I listened to oral histories, scoured old phone books, street maps, vintage photos, church bulletins. One surprise to me was that many white people in Colorado hated the Klan, a group whose support struck Colorado, said one observer, “like brush fire.” Meanwhile, small story details demanded attention: How much was a train ticket from Chicago to Denver in 1923? What perfumes were women wearing? Aftershave scents for men? Car models? Hit songs? Popular movies? I love history, so poring over this material never got old.
This story explores themes such as bigotry, faith, self-acceptance, and love. What was it like weaving together so many different themes?
A.) Life is complex for everyone. But for a young believer of color, the overlay of racial insult and the self-doubt and questioning of God that come with it make every single day a fight to keep moving—let alone solve a murder and wrangle a complicated but blooming relationship. Annalee’s story wouldn’t have been real, however, without all these colliding angles. To keep the ship steady, my job was to focus on what she wanted most—to figure out who killed her downtrodden father, especially when the suspects included upper-crust elites. Answering that question was the story’s North Star, but also hers. The other angles helped add the suspense, excitement, and depth I was seeking.
Who was your favorite character to write?
A.) Tough question! Answering is like picking a favorite child. Impossible. What I loved writing most was the relational tensions striking the characters—especially the growing attraction between Annalee and the young, strong-minded pastor Jack Blake. I loved writing their scenes because they affirm that, despite the raking hurt of bigotry and being a target of that, people still want to fall in love. I rejoice how their relationship—with its challenges and complications—deepens the novel, especially as a seed for the series.
What do you hope readers take away from this book?
A.) A bigger heart. In fact, if I’m honest, I want readers to discover, as I did, that by experiencing a young, clever Black woman as fully dimensional, we open our hearts more to hidden aspects of ourselves. Life is rough-and-tumble. It can hit overdrive when family and secrets and race and love collide. But a tough, smart cookie can work on life’s mysteries and find answers—about herself and others—and then find the courage to tackle another puzzling problem again. I’m excited that readers will join me in following Annalee’s journey down that road. Together, we’ll discover more to unravel in her world, but also in our own.