A fellow bookblogger told me Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams gave her nightmares. I’m not surprised as there’s something kinda macabre or gothic about it. About the characters, their stories and about the way things unfold.
Parts of this novel are predictable, while others are quite surprising. We spend time going back and forth in two timelines, and Williams times the unravelling of both well, but I wasn’t sure the explanations of the past sufficiently supported the unfolding events of the present.Dog Rose Dirt
by Jen Williams
Published by HarperCollins UK
Source: Harper Collins
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
When prodigal daughter Heather Evans returns to her family home after her mother's baffling suicide, she makes an alarming discovery--stacks and stacks of carefully preserved letters from notorious serial killer Michael Reave. The "Red Wolf," as he was dubbed by the press, has been in prison for over twenty years, serving a life sentence for the gruesome and ritualistic murders of several women across the country, although he has always protested his innocence. The police have had no reason to listen, yet Heather isn't the only one to have cause to re-examine the murders. The body of a young woman has just been found, dismembered and placed inside a tree, the corpse planted with flowers. Just as the Red Wolf once did.
What did Heather's mother know? Why did she kill herself? And with the monstrous Red Wolf safely locked inside a maximum security prison, who is stalking young women now? Teaming up with DI Ben Parker, Heather hopes to get some answers for herself and for the newest victims of this depraved murderer. Yet to do that, she must speak to Michael Reave herself, and expose herself to truths she may not be ready to face. Something dark is walking in the woods, and it knows her all too well.
There was a lot to enjoy about this story but I found myself wanting more. More backstory, more context, more explanations, more detail.
Heather is our narrator in the present and a boy rescued from an abusive family, though perhaps saved by someone just as bad, in the past
Heather talks about leaving home at 16 and never looking back. We’re not really told why or given much detail about her relationship with her mother, other than they didn’t get along and she felt responsible for her father’s death. It’s almost as if something is being held back – that the narrative is being purposely and purposefully oblique – but ultimately in a way that wasn’t required.
I engaged with Heather as a character, but wasn’t sure I ever really liked her. I certainly didn’t see how her friend Nikki tolerated her self-absorption and moods.
There’s early reference made to the fact Heather’s lost her previous job and it takes some time for us to learn why. I wondered if this could have been revealed differently to offer a better indication as to her character. It’s reflected through another example in the present in a bar but again not really examined for any real context. (Other than the obvious, falling apple / tree idiom.)
I also expected a little more from Heather’s interactions with Reave, the serial killer, and lack of progress or insight was disappointing, though am also conscious big revelations via their confrontations might have seemed too melodramatic.
In essence I wasn’t sure the past was entirely done justice. We learn a little of the context later in the novel but I kept expecting more.
Having said all of that, Williams certainly offers up a complex tale and delivers it in a tone and setting that is atmospheric and unnerving.
Dog Rose Dirt by Jen Williams was published in Australia by Harper Collins and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.