Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Ill Will

Ill Will by Dan Chaon
Random House Publishing Group: 3/7/17
eBook review copy; 480 pages
ISBN-13: 9780345476043

Ill Will by Dan Chaon is a highly recommended psychological thriller that contains murder, drug addiction, and satanic ritual abuse.

In June of 1983 the parents of Dustin Tillman, 13, and his cousins Kate and Wave were murdered. At the time his adopted brother, Rusty, was convicted of the crime. Now Rusty is being released from prison as DNA evidence now proves he was innocent. Dustin testified about his memories of witnessing a satanic cult ritual at Rusty's trial which helped convict him.

Now Dustin is in his 40s and a psychologist in Cleveland who uses hypnotherapy. He is still recovering from his wife's death from cancer. His oldest son is off at college, but the youngest son, 18-year-old Aaron, is quickly acquiring an addiction to heroin and has been secretly talking to Rusty and learning about his dad's past. At the same time a patient of Dustin who is a former police officer is telling him about the series of drowning deaths of drunken male college students that seems to point to a serial killer on the loose.

Dustin is someone who is easily persuaded and influenced by others, although the extent of this isn't clear at first. The story is told through several characters, flashbacks, and in multiple timelines, as well as following two different story lines. At one point Aaron's narrative is even shared through a split two-column page and in first-, second-, and third-person points of view, which works surprisingly well in this story where disconnection is a theme. 

Charon has created a disturbing thriller with Ill Will and presents its many complexities in surprisingly straightforward eloquent prose. There is more going on, in the past and present, than is evident at first. The characters are complicated and unreliable. There is a sense of foreboding and doom that looms over the novel while you are reading. Because of the multiple points-of-view and timelines, you won't have any answers to nagging questions right away and some questions will never be answered.

My only complaint about Ill Will is that it seemed to drag a bit in the middle, making it feel overly long. If the narrative is compelling enough that it commands my complete attention I normally don't notice the length, which makes me think that there could have been a bit of tightening of the plot in the middle to keep the sense of foreboding at the fore-front of your mind rather than allowing the "this seems a bit long" thought to enter.

Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of the Random House Publishing Group.

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