aimee dars reads

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

Happy Publication Day!

Eve grew up in the holler with her older brother Cal, near feral, with an abusive, drug-addicted mother who was known through the area for her illegal activities and her meanness. Although their mother was a strong specter in their lives, they each managed to escape the worst of her influence. Cal joined the police force, and, when Eve got pregnant at seventeen, she vowed to be the mother to Junie she never had. She stopped smoking and drinking and showed Junie only love and kindness. Tamping down her worst personality traits from her mother, such as her quick temper and biting sarcasm, Eve offered an anodyne façade to the community lest her background reflect badly on Junie. They were poor, but Eve gave Junie a stable, secure home.

However, when twelve-year-old Junie and her best friend Izzy are murdered in the town’s sorry excuse for a playground on a snowy April day, Eve wonders if rejecting her mother’s rough edges was the very thing that allowed evil to take Junie from her. Without the only thing in the world that mattered to her, Eve vows to find out who killed the girls and exact revenge; to do so, however, she needs not just to channel her mother’s vicious ways, but also come to terms with her past—and ally herself with the one person she wanted out of her life. The truth, though, may be something even Eve’s mother’s daughter can’t endure.

Given the title The Familiar Dark and that the murder of two girls opens the book, the reader should be forewarned that this is a grim tale, and the setting, the small town of Bitter Spring in the Missouri Ozarks, evokes a sense of hopelessness and resignation. In a place where even someone who has lived in the town ten years is an outsider, the long-established social and familial patterns form eddies even the most privileged struggle to escape. With limited choices, sometimes none are good. Still, maternal love in myriad forms transcends the boundaries of class, law, and self-preservation.

I highly enjoyed this fast-paced read which I thought was beautifully written. While I wish I knew more about some of the secondary characters, for the most part, the town is populated by a cast of interesting people who are well-drawn in brief vignettes. I’ve also been thinking quite a bit about the ending. Although I’m not sure the resolution could have been different, I am worried about what it means for the characters and how it will change them, and by implication the message that has about the choices they made.

This book will appeal most to fans of “literary thrillers.” I think readers who approach it as a traditional thriller will be a little disappointed. However, if you are looking for a more character-driven book or if you enjoyed Long Bright River or The Wolf Wants In, I recommend adding it to your reading list!

Thank you to Edelweiss and Dutton Books for providing an advance reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review.