The Familiar Dark

The Familiar Dark


In other places, the murder of two little girls would have blanketed the entire town in horror. Here, it was just another bad day.'

Eve Taggert's life has been spent steadily climbing away from her roots. Her mother, a hard and cruel woman who dragged her up in a rundown trailer park, was not who she wanted to be to her own daughter, Junie.

But 12-year old Junie is now dead. Found next to the body of her best friend in the park of their small, broken town. Eve has nothing left but who she used to be.

Despite the corrupt police force that patrol her dirt-poor town deep in the Missouri Ozarks, Eve is going to find what happened to her daughter. Even if it means using her own mother's cruel brand of strength to unearth secrets that don't want to be discovered and face truths it might be better not to know.

Everyone is a suspect.

Everyone has something to hide.

And someone will answer for her daughter's murder.

Our Review

When I read The Roanoke Girls a few years back I liked It, but I loved The Familiar DarkThe Familiar Dark was raw and powerful and left me wanting more. It was one of those books you finish and want to read it again straight away.

One of the things that was impressive about it was that the basic outline of the story is quite basic – a mother wanting to avenge her daughter’s death – but the execution felt unlike anything I had ever read.

Amy Engel managed to create a setting for the story that oozes hopelessness and desolation. Barren Springs is exactly the kind of place you would expect this story to be set. It is remote, isolated and has stunning views but underneath it all there is a seedy background of corrupt policemen and meth dealers.

When twelve-year-old Junie and her best friend are found murdered in a local playground Eve knows that she can’t rely on the police to help catch the killer. She has spent years trying to distance herself from her meth-addicted, white trash mother but now she must go back to her roots in order to find and take revenge on her daughter’s killer.

The author doesn’t shy away from the gruesome in depicting the children’s deaths.

“They died during a freak April snowstorm, blood pooling on a patchy bed of white. Afterwards, people said the killer must have kept an eye on the gathering grey clouds. Taken them as a cue to strike and picked the moment when everyone else huddled indoors…Izzy died first, dark brown hair tangled over face and one eye peering out between strands…Junie waited for a third blink that never came, watched blood unspool in the space between them.”

Eve works in a local diner and is speaking to her friend Louise about the friendship between Izzy and Junie. I like the way the author uses this conversation to illuminate the reader as to the unusual nature of this friendship.

“Those two are thick as thieves,” Louise said, and I didn’t miss the slight note of disbelief in her voice. I was used to it by now, understood that girls like Junie and girls like Izzy didn’t usually run in the same crowd. Especially not in this town, which might as well have a neon strip painted down the middle. Poor white trash on this side. Do not cross. Didn’t seem to matter that 90 per cent of the town was stranded on the wrong side.”

When Eve’s police officer brother Cal shows up at the diner, she immediately knows something is wrong. She reads the signs in his hesitating to get out the cruiser and in his body language before he even enters the building.

“Look at me,” Cal said, gentle but firm. His big-brother voice. I raised my eyes slowly, not wanting to see, not wanting to know. Cal’s eyes were red-rimmed and swollen. He’d been crying, I realised with a little electric jolt. I couldn’t remember ever seeing Caleb cry, not once in our shitty shared childhood.”

Eve knows before he speaks what he is going to say. Her childhood has prepared her to acknowledge the darker side of life.

“Is she dead?” Next to me Louise sucked in a sharp breath. That one sound letting me know that I’d gone a step too far, made a leap that Louise never would have. But Louise hadn’t grown up the same way I had. No money, yeah. Food stamps and government cheese, yeah. But no violence. Not raised in a double-wide that stank of random men and meth burners. Not strange faces and too much laughter, most of it jagged and mean. All of it nestled in the armpit of the Ozarks, a place only fifteen miles down the road but so backwater, so hidden from the wider world, that it felt like it’s own dark pocket of time.”

The whole process of identifying her daughter is made worse by the adversarial nature of her relationship with the local sheriff, sheriff Land. Everything he says and does gets her back up. Some of the things she says to him help reveal more of Eve’s troubled past with her mother to the reader.

“I thought that was the dumbest thing I’d ever heard. Women might not act out as often as men, but there were capable of anything, could be as awful and vicious as men when they wanted to be. I knew firsthand the violence that live inside women.”

Eve quickly realises that the police are not going to find the killer, so she decides to take matters into her own hands and in doing so she brings herself into contact with her abusive ex Jimmy Ray.

Barren Springs was the perfect depressing and bleak setting for this book.

“Here it was still the same old merry-go- round of drugs and poverty and women being chewed up and spit out by men. People in other worlds could wear black evening gowns and give speeches about equality and not backing down, but out here in the trenches we fought our war alone and we lost the battles every day”

One of the things that struck a chord with me the most whilst reading The Familiar Dark was the author’s observations on press conferences.

“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 don’t cry enough or cry too much. Until the mothers are too put-together or not put-together enough. Until the mothers are angry. Because that is the one thing women are never ever allowed to be. We can be sad, distraught, confused, pleading, forgiving. But not furious. Furious is reserved for other people. The worst thing you can be is an angry woman, an angry mother.”

Eve blames herself for not teaching Junie that the world is a dark place and wonders throughout the book if she could have done more to save her.

“I wondered if maybe a mouth like I used to have might have helped help save her. Maybe she’d have been more likely to scream. To tell someone to go fuck themselves. To fight back. Or maybe it would have only meant the knife moved faster. 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 is your own fault. You had it coming. But if you smile, say yes, survive on politeness, you’re weak and desperate. An easy make. 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. Junie hadn’t learnt that yet. But she would have eventually. We all do, one way or the other."

The Familar Dark is one of my favourite books of this year.


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Our Rating

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