Review: The Familiar Dark – Amy Engel

The Familiar Dark

Amy Engel

Hodder & Stoughton

Hachette Australia

ISBN: 9781529368086

RRP $32.99



From the bestselling author of The Roanoke Girls comes a new novel with the same incredible atmosphere, strong sense of place and dark heart. The Familiar Dark will blow you away.


In a small town beset by poverty in the Missouri Ozarks two 12-year-old girls are found dead in the park. Their throats have been cut.


Eve Taggert’s daughter was one of them. Desperate with grief, she takes it upon herself to find out the truth about what happened to her little girl.


Eve is no stranger to the dark side of life – having been raised by a hard-edged mother whose parenting lessons she tried hard not to mimic. But with her daughter gone, Eve has no reason to stay soft. And she is going to need her mother’s cruel brand of strength if she’s going to face the truth about her daughter’s death.



My View:

Dark. Gritty. Poignant. So, so, sad.

2020 has been a fabulous year for all things crime fiction.  Each new read I finish I think “This is the best crime fiction read of the year”, and then I start the next book and I am blown away with how good that next book is. This book is another contender for Crime Fiction Book of the Year.


Dark and startling – you will not believe where this book takes you. I think there are a coup0el of points that make this read outstanding; the characters, particularly the protagonist Eve Taggert, is someone you just really want to see come out of this terrible situation well, I have so much empathy for this character and I guess many others will too.  The settings transport to you to small town America where Eve scratches out a living the best she can. And the social commentary, there is much written here about the objectification of women, women as possessions… and a savage a brutal crime with a jaw dropping conclusion.   Read this quick read, only 236 pages, perfect to read in one sitting.


I will leave you to contemplate on this quote from the book:

“That mouth one more thing I buried when Junie was born. Wanting to teach her a better way to approach the world.  One that wouldn’t leave her judged as poor white trash and not much else. But now I wonder if maybe a mouth like I used to have might have helped 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 have made the knife move faster. Truth is, there is 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. Junie hadn’t learnt that yet. But she would have, eventually. We all do, one way of the other. “ (pps 142,143 – Eve contemplating if she should have made her daughter tougher, less easy to be murdered… )






Post Script: Painkiller – N J Fountain


N J Fountain
Hachette Australia
Little, Brown Book Group
ISBN: 9780751561197

Her pain is constant. And the danger is real.

Monica suffers from chronic neuropathic pain. Every second of her life is spent in agony, and she is coping with it the best she can. However, there are whole years of her life which are a blur to her.

Then Monica finds a suicide note, in her handwriting, saying she is going to end it all. Did she write it? She has no memory of doing so and as she reads the message again, she begins to suspect that someone tried to kill her once – and now they’re trying to do so again…

My View:
This novel starts with a great hook – the reader is plunged into Monica’s world of constant nerve pain – for those who have never suffered nerve pain – it is a pain like no other, nothing relieves it, prescribed pain killers/ drugs mess with your mind, sleep is your only escape that is if you can manage to get to sleep. Monica’s pain is chronic and constant. I know this place that Monica inhabits, though my nerve pain is not as extreme and does eventual resolve itself.

And so we are introduced to Monica, to her pain, her unreliable memories, and her life. The discovery of a suicide note that she thinks she may or may not have penned adds to a constant suspicion the reader feels that there is something else going on here, something not quite right. This feeling grows stronger the longer we stay in Monica’s world. Monica is a wonderfully engaging, resourceful, heroic female protagonist.
I love the unreliable narrator. I love the twists and turns, they hit you with a knock out punch! The ending is superb.

All in all a great narrative, the unreliable narrator works its magic effectively and seductively – you just want to know what is really happening. I had the occasional short period of reading when I could no longer suspend my disbelief but these periods were minimal and I was able to continue my enjoyment of this script. This is a brilliant addition to my collection of domestic noir!

Post Script: No One Needs To Know – Kevin O’Brien

Cover No One Needs No

No One Needs To Know

Kevin O’Brien

Kensington Books


ISBN: 9780786031627




In July 1970, actress Elaina Styles was slain in her rented Seattle mansion along with her husband and their son’s nanny. When the baby’s remains were found buried in a shallow grave close to a hippie commune, police moved in—only to find all its members already dead in a grisly mass suicide.



Now, decades later, a film about the murders is shooting at the mansion. On-set caterer Laurie Trotter ignores gossip that the production is cursed. But then people start dying…



As Laurie digs deep into what happened all those years ago, the truth emerges more twisted than any whispered rumor, as a legacy of brutal vengeance reaches its terrifying climax.




My View:

The Pros – Scarily atmospheric – the sense of impeding violence and bullying was real and pulse raising. The night I read this I was home alone, well almost alone, I had two dogs with me, if not for their company and protection if need be, I would have stopped reading this book and left it for the daylight hours…in places this was creepy.

The intro was superb providing a great emotional hook – a mothers worst fear

The Cons – This narrative was complicated with back stories that became precursors to main events, at times it felt like this was three stories badly meshing together trying to flow as one. I don’t think my understanding of the multiple plot lines was assisted by reading this book in a pdf format on my ereader. I usually enlarge the font when I reading a novel on my ereader – this seems to then through all the page breaks/chapter breaks out the window and I think this lead to confusion on more than one occasion – where for example I was hearing the voice/story of one character and the next line was immediately in the view point of someone else – without a pause or obvious or break, very confusing…I found myself re reading pages often trying to work out what was happening. I also thought the narrative could have been more effective told with fewer words. I also had trouble suspending my disbelief on a few occasions.


Overall – I think if I had read this narrative in the shape of a physical book my understanding and therefore my enjoyment of the complex plot would have been greater. Kevin O’Brien excels in creating spooky atmosphere and psychological suspense and tension.



Post Script: Northern Heat – Helene Young

Cover Northern Heat -Helene Young

Northern Heat

Helene Young

Penguin Random House

Penguin Books

ISBN: 9780143799740



In steamy northern Queensland, Conor is living under an assumed name and rebuilding his shattered life. Working at Cooktown’s youth centre has given him the chance to make a difference again, and a chance to flirt with Dr Kristy Dark.

After tragedy tore her family apart, Kristy fled to Cooktown with her feisty teenage daughter, Abby. She hoped being part of the small community would help them both heal, but Abby’s sports coach is turning out to be a compelling distraction.

When a severe cyclone menaces the coast, threatening to destroy everything in its path, tensions come to a head – and the weather is not the only danger in Cooktown. Cut off from the world and with her life on the line, Kristy will have to summon her courage and place her trust in Conor, or they’ll both lose someone they love.


My View:

This was a dramatic page turning read which had all the elements I desire in a great contemporary novel – well developed characters- some you will like, some you won’t. A complex plot that has several story arcs; this novel has threads that discuss such issues as domestic violence, bulimia and life in rural Australia/life on the farm. The settings are amazing – although we have only travelled a small area of Queensland I was able to recognise this setting in so many coastal towns we visited. There is plenty of action, drama and intrigue – the pages almost turn over by themselves urging you to read on and did I mention the writing? Excellent.


This is a well-crafted and executed narrative. My only difficulty with this novel was trying to decide how to describe the style of this book – I don’t think the term rural fiction does it justice – the book is located in rural Australia but is not defined by its location. Romance/romantic thriller? The books does have characters and so of course there will be a range of relationships in the book – there is a blossoming romantic thread but romance is not the sole purpose of the novel, there are discussions re family dynamic/relationships, friendship and camaraderies – all aspects of community are to be found here. A cosy crime this is not. Action packed, tense, full of suspense – tick. I think best description for this read is contemporary Australian fiction. How would you describe this book?

Post Script: Monday’s Lie – Jamie Mason

Your cup will be filled to the brim with tension and menacing atmosphere.

Monday's Lie

Monday’s Lie

Jamie Mason

Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books

Gallery Books

ISBN: 9781476774459



From the acclaimed author of the “ripping good” (The New York Times) debut novel Three Graves Full comes a new thriller about a woman who digs into her unconventional past to confirm what she suspects: her husband wants her dead.


Dee Aldrich rebelled against her off-center upbringing when she married the most conventional man she could imagine: Patrick, her college sweetheart. But now, years later, her marriage is falling apart and she’s starting to believe that her husband wants her gone…for good.


Haunted by memories of her late mother Annette, a former covert operations asset, Dee reaches back into her childhood to resurrect the lessons and “spy games” in which she learned memory tricks and, most importantly, how and when to lie. But just as she begins delving into her past to determine the course of the future, she makes a discovery that will change her life: the money that her mother left behind. Now, Dee must investigate her suspicions before it’s too late and untangle conspiracy from coincidence, using her mother’s advice to steer her through the blind spots. The trick, in the end, will be in discovering if a “normal life” is really what she wanted at all.


With pulse-pounding prose and atmospheric settings, Monday’s Lie is a thriller that delivers more of the “Hitchcockian menace” (Peter Straub) that made Three Graves Full a critical hit. For fans of the Coen brothers or Alexander McCall Smith, this is a book you won’t want to miss.


My View:

What a great read! I recommend pencilling an appointment in your diary (give yourself a few hours, you deserve it) and read this fast paced and addictive thriller – you won’t be disappointed. This has all the elements that I love in a thriller – characters that could become your friends (I especially loved the echo of the mother’s voice, instructing her children, showering them with love, teaching them how to be safe…). The prose is engaging and tense, with a hint of mystery and drama that keeps you turning the pages. There is no gratuitous blood shed or forensic analysis here; this narrative relies on its plot, is well developed characters, its fast pace and sense of misgiving and foreboding to engage the reader- perfect! Read and enjoy.