“The Familiar Dark” by Amy Engel. New York: Dutton, 2020, 238 pages $26, available as Kindle
Tortuous deception spins out of control in the hardscrabble Missouri Ozarks when two families must deal with the aftermath of the murder of a pair of 12-year-old girls in a public park. Friends Junie and Izzy are found with slashed throats on an isolated playground one cold spring day after being summoned to a meeting using a burner cellphone.
Junie is the daughter of single-mother Eve, a white-trash diner waitress and former victim of domestic violence. Junie’s best friend Izzy is better-off economically, but an impressionable victim of an older, manipulative man with whom she has formed a dangerous liaison.
“The Familiar Dark” recounts Eve’s quest to find the killer of the two girls and bring him to justice. Key in her search are her estranged Meth-addicted mother and her older brother Cal, a taciturn abused child turned law enforcement officer. Playing ancillary roles are Izzy’s parents, Jenny and Zach, who enjoy a somewhat higher standard of living, and seem bewildered at the turn of events that has abruptly snuffed out the life of their beloved pre-teen daughter.
A bedraggled, corrupt rural hamlet dominated by Jimmy Ray, Eve’s former lover and local crime kingpin, serves as the backdrop for a death investigation that pits old grudges, long-held prejudices, and ingrained patterns of behavior against criminal justice. There are no pat answers and few blameless characters as the search for the killer evolves in the aptly named town of Barren Springs.
For the locals who are coerced to supply information, “getting above your raising” may be a sin worse than death. Guilt, blame, and class bias cast a long shadow as Eve embarks on an investigation requiring grit and self-contemplation. The treatment of impoverished women and how they cooperate with one another to address oppression and generational poverty becomes the theme of this dark tale of exacting retributive justice.
Author Amy Engel is a former criminal defense attorney and Missouri resident. She is the author of a previous crime novel called “The Roanoke Girls” and a writer to watch for creating plot-twisting Gothic intrigue.
Lisa Kobrin is the Reference Librarian at May Memorial Library. She can be reached at email@example.com