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.
You have tackled some difficult emotional subjects in both The Roanoke Girls and The Familiar Dark. What is it, do you think, that draws you to tell these stories?
That’s a great question. I am drawn to stories about people (and places) who maybe aren’t represented all that often in crime fiction, like people living in rural poverty or people who harbor the type of family secrets that no one ever talks about. Pretending dark subjects don’t exist doesn’t make them go away, and I think there’s real value in shedding light on stories or ways of life that might make people a little uncomfortable.
Evie is an immediately engaging character. I was intrigued by her retrospective journey out of darkness, and the horrific loss that sucked her back in. How did you go about building that character to keep her sympathetic, despite her partly morally questionable actions?
To be honest, I didn’t worry much about whether Eve was sympathetic. I just wanted her to feel real and for her actions to be true to her character. Personally, I found her sympathetic, but I love all my characters, even the terrible ones, so it’s sometimes hard for me to judge. But I think, for me at least, it can become a trap to try and write a character with a preconceived idea of how I want readers to view him or her. That leads to a character who comes across as contrived or forced. I tried to write Eve in a realistic way that felt honest and beyond that, I’ll leave it up to readers to judge how they feel about her.
Is there one book that you have read recently that affected you the way you hope Familiar Dark might affect its readers?
Probably Long Bright River by Liz Moore. It’s a character driven mystery, and although the plot and setting are completely different from The Familiar Dark, it has a very distinct sense of place and deals with family, poverty, and drug addiction. I read it in practically one sitting and loved every word.
Can you tell us anything about what’s next for you, writing wise?
I’m working on a new novel right now. It’s dark psychological suspense set in rural Kansas and deals with a woman who is serving a life sentence for the murder of her entire family when she was a teenager. I don’t like to talk too much about a book as I’m writing it, so that’s all I’ll say for now!
The Roanoke Girls was one of my books of its year so to say I was keen to get into The Familiar Dark would be putting it mildly.
For good reason it turns out – this novel is short but packs one hell of a punch, I devoured it over two sittings, one of those books you feel rather than read. Main protagonist Evie immediately grabbed my soul, a young mother determined to do better than her own, who none the less suffers the most unimaginable loss. Her grief, her anger is palpable, Amy Engel’s razor sharp insightful prose creating layer after layer of emotional resonance.
This is the tale of one woman’s journey out of, then back into darkness – the cleverly authentic setting is deeply integral to forming the people who live in it. The loss of her daughter drives Evie back towards those toxic relationships she tried to leave behind, her one focus to destroy the life that destroyed hers and took her daughter, every step of the way you are right there with her.
Deeply held secrets come to light, The Familiar Dark is full of very bad people who occasionally do the right thing and seemingly good people who hide their own demons, every nuance of human nature is here wrapped up in a hugely addictive piece of storytelling. The end, when it comes, is extraordinarily horrific in its reality and leaves you melancholy and full of feeling.
This was brilliant. All the way. Don’t miss it in 2020.