Book review: The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

Wednesday, April 8, 2020 Permalink

I enjoyed The Roanoke Girls published in 2017 but Amy Engel’s latest release, The Familiar Dark, actually frog-leapt over several other books for a rather superficial reason. Its slimness.

Don’t get me wrong, the backcover blurb made it sound gripping, so I was keen to read it—but given everything that’s happening in the world—like many others, I’m struggling to maintain focus for extensive amounts of time. Large tomes have felt a little overwhelming. But I knew (again from the blurb) this would be a book I could read in a sitting. (And it was!)

Book review: The Familiar Dark by Amy EngelThe Familiar Dark
by Amy Engel
Published by Hodder & Stoughton
on 31/03/2020
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781529368079, 9781529368086
Pages: 248

In a small town beset by poverty in the Missouri Ozarks two 12-year-old girls are found dead in the park. Their throats have been cut.

Eve Taggert's daughter was one of them. Desperate with grief, she takes it upon herself to find out the truth about what happened to her little girl.

Eve is no stranger to the dark side of life - having been raised by a hard-edged mother whose parenting lessons she tried hard not to mimic. But with her daughter gone, Eve has no reason to stay soft. And she is going to need her mother's cruel brand of strength if she's going to face the truth about her daughter's death.

In my review of The Roanoke Girls I noted I struggled with some unlikeable characters and that nearly put me off continuing the book.

Here, Engel again offers us some less-than-endearing characters, but I felt all had ‘some’ redeeming qualities and Engel goes to some effort to show us that.

Evie, our lead is certainly likeable. After an horrendous upbringing and finding herself pregnant when young, she vowed to give her daughter the love and stability she never had as a child. So of course, it’s devastating when—despite doing everything ‘right’—she loses her daughter anyway. The irony isn’t lost on Evie. Despite her mother’s abuse and neglect she and her brother Cal survived. Her own child did not. She failed where her mother succeeded. (Kinda.)

Engel does a good job of painting a picture of 12yr old Junie. Though we never really meet her it’s hard not to feel a confronting sense of regret (even devastation) at a young life cut short.

She tasted salt, tears on her lips and blood in her mouth. She knew this was the end, and couldn’t believe it was coming so close to the beginning. p 2

Junie’s murder causes Evie to ‘regress’ into the younger version of herself. The person she was before she had Junie, the person she no longer wanted to be. There’s an obvious nature vs nurture ponderance as well as the notion that we are capable of quashing parts of our personality if given the right motivation. If I had more mental energy I’d be wondering if people really change, or if they adapt. Or do they simply pretend, hiding their true selves from the world?

We certainly meet an array of characters here, from corrupt cops, to drug dealing strip joint owners. Engel offers us the quintessential small town settings with lines firmly drawn between the the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ and the baggage that comes from preceding generations.

There are strong themes around family ties and parent / child relationships. Cal and Evie’s mother is a doozy.

Her rare affection an offering I never could resist, even when I knew better. Because her sweetness was always short-lived, always out of the blue, so you could never predict or count on it. And that made the rest of the hours and weeks and years that much worse. Because you knew she was capable of something more, something different. And you were always hoping for it, waiting for that rarely glimpsed side of her to show itself. Never quite able to let go. p 41

Engel throws up a lot of surprises. There are secrets galore and Evie is forced to question everything she knows about those around her. And of course we’re reminded of our propensity to misjudge others based on our experiences and assumptions.

This book could be quite devastating as the tragedy of the girls’ murder has left a wake of destruction in the lives of those left behind. However, Evie’s resilience and internal battle takes centre stage: to be the mother she wanted to be for her daughter; vs the mother she now needs to be. The girl she was vs the woman she’s become.

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel was published in Australia by Hachette and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes. 


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