Book Review #33: The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel (2020)

Rating: 3 out of 5 ⭐️
Title: The Familiar Dark: A Novel
Author: Amy Engel
Published: 2020 (Dutton Books, New York)
Pages: 238 (Hardcover)
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Mystery, Crime, Suspense
CW: murder, corrupt police, family abuse, violence, mentions of sexuality
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My borrowed copy of The Familiar Dark on a weighted blanket

Two reviews in one week! But the book I’m here to talk about was a quick read. Anyways, I read another spooky book, but this one was more crime-thriller spooky than horror spooky (the next book in my stack is a monster of a novel, though). Currently, that book is The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel, who also wrote The Roanoke Girls. Engel is a thriller novelist who also, fun fact, used to be a criminal defense attorney (according to Goodreads). I don’t talk about this enough on my blog, but I actually like reading blurbs about the author’s I read. I view it like finding a credible news publication, sometimes the insight into their backgrounds makes the content all the more worthwhile. This definitely is not the case every time though.

I thought about all the press conferences I’d seen over the years, parents trotted out for missing kids, killed kids, abused kids. Everyone feels sorry for those parents, those mothers, until they don’t. Until the mothers are too put-together or not put-together enough. Until the mothers are angry. Because that’s the one thing women are never, ever allowed to be. We can be sad, distraught, confused, pleading forgiving. But not furious. Fury is reserved for other people. The worst thing you can be is an angry woman, an angry mother” – Amy Engel, The Familiar Dark

Eve is a single-mother living in a small town called Barren Springs in the Missouri Ozarks, and is a lot like the others in the town: poor white trash, knocked up as a teenager, and hanging onto the hope she will leave Barren Springs one day. When her 12-year-old and only child, Junie, is murdered on a playground she once played on, Eve discovers she wants revenge and takes a page from her own abusive, cruel mother’s book to make whoever committed the crime pay. During which, Eve battles her own grief, while facing her own demons and the injustices she’s been handed since she was a child.

Truth is, there’s no good way to navigate being female in this world. If you speak out, say no, stand your ground, you’re a bitch and a harpy, and whatever happens to you is your own fault. You had it coming. But if you smile, say yes, survive on politeness, you’re weak and desperate. An easy mark. Prey in a world full of predators. There are no risk‑free options for women, no choices that don’t come back to smack us in the face” – Amy Engel, The Familiar Dark

This book was a fantastic crime thriller! I definitely recommend if you can get past the triggers in the CW section I mention at the top. I heavily want to note the violence. But overall what I liked most was the perspective of this novel. Sometimes I’m personally exhausted by the increasing popularity of the ‘true crime’ podcasts, books and Netflix shows. As interesting as they are, at the end of the day, the producers and authors are showcasing a family or friend’s tragedy and putting it on display for the world to comment and criticize in a sick fascination. That’s it. Only occasionally do these publications ‘help find the killer’. Otherwise it’s the same thing as publishing a shooter’s name in the news, I believe. (But on a rare occasion I watch/listen to these so I’m fully acknowledging right now I’m slightly hypocritical…) I believe The Familiar Dark comments on this by offering the mother’s perspective with her own criticisms on how others are handling her daughter’s murder. The book also briefly addresses the ‘true crime’ craze, and it was certainly somewhat enlightening.

Why should you read this book? If you enjoy crime thrillers taking place in a small Ozark town in the victim’s family’s perspective, this is the one for you.

I give this a 3 out of 5! (I didn’t think this book was absolutely amazing or original)


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