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Round and Round They Go

The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel (Dutton)

March 26, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Ok…this past year, I have really been craving books that offer me a thrill, a few chills, and a suspenseful mystery to be solved. When I was offered up an early look at Amy Engel’s new murder mystery, The Familiar Dark, I gobbled it right up. I went into this book predicting murder, investigations, ever-changing suspects, and some twists and turns along the way. While my predictions were on par, I was pleasantly surprised by how much more this book had to offer.  Playing out more like a small-town drama with a side dish of murder, The Familiar Dark is perfect for crime mystery and drama lovers alike. Let’s see why….

Eve, a single mom, was born and raised in the small town of Barron Springs, Missouri, where poverty and vengeance are the driving force in this ever so bleak town.  While working her shift at the local diner, Eve is interrupted by her police officer brother with news that her twelve-year-old daughter and her best friend were found murdered on the town playground.  Life for Eve is put on hold until she finds out who did this to her only child. While the town police (including her brother Cal) investigate these murders, Eve takes it upon herself to dig around her crumbling town for some answers.  It’s seeing her drug-ladened mother and revisiting her abusive past that helps put the pieces of this mysterious puzzle together.  

The most difficult part of The Familiar Dark for me was the opening scene. The story begins with a well written and emotionally charged murder of two pre-teen girls. Though it is not super gory, the intensity of this scene was the ultimate punch in the gut (especially being a parent).  I’m not going to lie, it did make me pause and wonder if I could go on reading (it is only 2 pages). Well, I am so glad I pressed on. So many murder mysteries are driven by the actual crime itself. Not so much with Engel’s harrowing tale. Instead, it’s her characters and the town they live in that moved this story forward.  The town of Barron Springs is so well illustrated. There is a hardness to this seedy town that reeks of impossibility and despair. Engel truly exposed damaged and raw to the bone characters. She captures Eve’s utter grief and fury while exposing the ugly spirits and dirty souls of the people around her. Socio-economic status and poverty is an intricate maze with no end in sight.  While Eve’s character has an overflowing urge to break free from her past life and reach the end of this never-ending path, others in this story continue on this endless journey with breathtaking hopelessness.  

The Familiar Dark is a soul-stirring mystery that I couldn’t put down. While the grim atmosphere sucked me into its bottomless pit, the desperate characters kept me wanting more of their stories. Engel kept me guessing throughout her story.   She had me fascinated by Eve’s cruel family and the vicious life cycle it fueled. This story has it all…love, loss, grief, and secrets GALORE. I highly recommend this book to those reluctant to read murder mysteries and to the die-hard suspense seekers.  The Familiar Dark has something powerful to offer all readers.  Above all, this book is a wicked fast read. A quality I do so admire! 

Happy Reading My Friends!

Talk to you soon Mr. H!!!!

Your Biggest Fan,


P.S.  Thank you to Dutton Books and Netgalley for the advance reader copy of The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel.  What a treat to read and write about!

Support your local bookstore during this unbelievable time!  So many local bookstores are still delivering and/or have the curbside pick up.  Choose your personal store and make it happen. Click on the book pic below to get started on purchasing a copy of The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel.

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