Penguin Random House; 3/31/20
review copy; 256 pages
The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel is a very highly recommended thriller about a mother's quest for justice - or revenge - after her daughter is murdered.
Twelve-year-old best friends Izzy Logan and Junie Taggert are both murdered on playground in Barren Springs, a impoverished small town located in the Missouri Ozarks. Eve Taggert, Junie's single mother, is inconsolable and enraged that anyone would harm her beloved daughter. Eve is determined to find out who did it and extract justice for her daughter, and after growing up with her mother, she has the life lessons to do so. Eve and her brother Cal, who is now a police officer, grew up in a trailer way back in a holler, with a tough, volatile, hard-edged, drug-addicted mother who ran a meth house. Her mother's lessons were cruel, but instilled toughness, fierce loyalty for family, and an eye-for-an-eye outlook - something Eve might need even though she hasn't talked to her mother for years.
Engel brings it all together in this memorable, well-written, dark thriller. The Familiar Dark has everything you want in a great novel. The story is heart-wrenching and dark while the plot grabs your attention and holds it fast. The murder is just in the first chapter, and then it is Eve's story. It's a slow-burner that builds on facts and observations. Eve's revelations about her past and her search for the killer are riveting. Eve's grief is raw and realistic.
Eve is a well-developed character set in an unimaginable situation where she needs to figure out how she is going to respond. This is a great character study of a mother at her most elemental core. It is understandable decision that she eventually turns to what she was taught as a child at the hands of her mother, that no one takes what is yours. Even when Cal insists that she needs to leave the investigation to the professionals, she can't and won't stop her search for Junie's killer because she knows it is someone local.
The writing is stark and descriptive, capturing both Eve's character and the setting. As a mother, I understood Eve's deep grief and desire for vengeance. As a woman, I understood, the lesson her mother felt kids, especially Eve, needed - toughen up or you're going to get hurt. You will not be able to set this novel down. The ending was a shocking surprise.
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Penguin Random House.