The Familiar Dark

Dutton. Mar. 2020. 256p. ISBN 9781524745950. $26.
In the opening pages of this uncompromising and absorbingly written new novel by the author of The Roanoke Girls, 12-year-olds Junie and Izzie are murdered, and Engel does right by them, not using their tragedy as mere plot point to hook readers but genuinely letting us feel the rubbed-raw grief of Junie’s mother, Eve Taggert, and showing how it turns swiftly into action. Eve was raised dirt poor by an abusive, meth-dealing mother and regrets never having made it out of her scrappy Missouri Ozarks town and given Junie a better life. But now she ignores warnings from her police officer brother and returns to her mother, for information and then for inspiration, because she’ll need all her mother’s plug-ugly toughness to untangle what she knows has to be a crime by a local. Along the way, we’re unsettled by secrets from Eve’s sordid run-in with the sheriff to Junie’s paternity, but that’s nothing compared to the gut-punch discovery of who wielded the knife.
VERDICT Not just a fine thriller but a fine character study, plumbing family and particularly mother-daughter relationships and showing Eve, her mother, and Izzie’s mother, too, as women unbendable as oak. [See Prepub Alert, 8/25/19.]
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