#Thriller Thursday #Book Review of The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel

Set in the poorest part of the Missouri Ozarks, in a small town with big secrets, The Familiar Dark opens with a murder. Eve Taggert, desperate with grief over losing her daughter, takes it upon herself to find out the truth about what happened. Eve is no stranger to the dark side of life, having been raised by a hard-edged mother whose lessons Eve tried not to pass on to her own daughter. But Eve may need her mother’s cruel brand of strength if she’s going to face the reality about her daughter’s death and about her own true nature. Her quest for justice takes her from the seedy underbelly of town to the quiet woods and, most frighteningly, back to her mother’s trailer for a final lesson.

(From the book blurb)


My thoughts:

If you are thinking of picking this book, you might have read a few online reviews already and my guess is they all describe it as dark and disturbing. Because it is. Dark, heartbreaking, and totally unputdownable.

The first couple of pages are heart-wrenching and you know that it isn’t going to get better. Izzy Logan and Junie Taggert, two twelve year old girls, two best friends, who are as close to each other as only sisters can be, are murdered in the opening scene. We never really meet them – just see the effect their brief lives had on people who loved them, especially Junie. The rest of the book deals with grief and mourning and trying to survive the worst possible thing that could have happened.

Eve Taggert, Junie’s mother, had a harrowing childhood. Born to and raised by a drug-addict mother, Eve and her older brother Cal didn’t know when their next next meal might come, had to hide in the woods from the sleezy men their mother would bring in, wear the the worst kind of hand-me-downs.
‘We had a hungry, feral look about us, even on the rare times our bellies were ful, which made us instantly recognizable targets. Or it would have if our mama’s reputation hadn’t preceded us’. Nobody messed with Lynette Taggert’s children, because Lynette’s raw, violent, and disproportionate justice would find them.

Cal became a police officer against all odds, while Eve changed her life radically when she got pregnant at 17. She became the mother she and her brother never had. A stable job, a roof over her little girl’s head, regular food, and above all, love and attention Eve and Cal were never given. Eve broke all ties with her mother for fear of Lynette’s cruel lessons in life contaminating the new innocent life. Eve, who has always had a sharp tongue and a quick retort, checked what she said and what she did because she kept thinking about how these would reflect on Junie, how her own behaviour could influence other people’s opinion of her daughter and make her life more difficult. She was an exemplary mother, but it didn’t save her girl.
Now Eve needs to revert to what she used to be before Junie came into the world, she needs to go to ‘the familiar dark’, because this is the only way for her to survive her little girl being gone. At the press-conference /police appeal to the public, Eve promises she will find the murderer and destroy them.

This is a mystery and I won’t give away any details. Eve’s ‘investigation’ is dark and depressing as well, as everything in her poor little town aptly named Barren Springs. Eve is looking for justice, and her upbringing didn’t teach her how to forgive or let go. One of the characters points out ‘there’s a world of space between forgiveness and vengeance. A lot of places you can land’. You can rest assured, Eve isn’t going to shy away from facing the truth, even though it might be killing her. She was raised to be strong and fight back. Can you ever forget your mother’s life lessons that shaped you for better or worse or do you always remain your mother’s daughter?

There’s a world of space between forgiveness and vengeance. A lot of places you can land.

The characters in this book are absolutely fascinating. Eve’s strength and ‘unflinching ability’ to be honest with herself and take responsibility for her own actions is what kept me turning pages for hours until I reached the end of the book. I did guess who the murderer was, because the characters were so well-written and so logical that it was the only possible solution. To be honest, I’m not a big fan of shocking endings where completely new information is revealed.

Powerful, compulsive, raw, The Familiar Dark is a story of grief and loss, mother’s love and survival. Definitely recommended for all the fans of dark psychological thrillers.

Take a long honest look at yourself and own the darkness that lived inside.

Thank you to Edelweiss and Dutton Books for the ARC provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Images by _Marion and congerdesign from Pixabay

  • Have you read The Familiar Darkness or is it on your tbr?
  • Have you read Amy Engel’s previous book The Roanoke Girls? if yes, did you like it? Would you recommend it?
  • Are we destined to be ‘our parents’ children or can we change the models we were given in the childhood if they are negative?

Join the Conversation


    1. It is, Debjani! It isn’t the kind of book I’d normally, but it was oddly compelling. I guess we are always fascinated by strong characters. Plus, I don’t know how to put it, you get a feeling that Junie’s life wasn’t in vain. Thank you for your comment. Hope you like it 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  1. I have this one on my TBR, but not sure if I am in the right frame of mind for reading this one right now. It does sound very well-written with great characters, so I will read it, just maybe not right now.


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