Today I’m sharing my thoughts on The Familiar Dark by Amy Engel. Not only that but I have a great Q&A with the author to share with you too! My thanks to publisher Hodder and Stoughton for providing an advance copy for review. Here’s what the book is all about:
About the Book
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.Available from: Amazon | Kobo | Waterstones | Googleplay | Apple Books | Hive
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.
Q&A With Amy Engel
Hi Amy. Thanks for taking part in this Q&A. I’ve a mixture of some quick fire ice breakers and some more hopefully sensible questions for you. Here we go …
Favourite childhood book?
When I was very young it was Mog The Forgetful Cat by Judith Kerr. When I got a little older, it was Jane-Emily by Patricia Clapp.
Favourite/most influential author?
Stephen King. He’s the master.
This one is hard! Probably The English Patient and The Devil Wears Prada.
What is your guilty pleasure?
Chips and guacamole. And manicures.
Best compliment you’ve had for your work?
I think the compliments that mean the most are when people say they enjoy my writing style and that it’s distinct and draws them into the story. That’s always a nice thing to hear.
Funniest or strangest criticism?
On Goodreads someone said reading my books was like overturning a rotted log in the forest and watching everything come crawling out. I’m not sure it was meant as a compliment, but I took it as one!
Do you have a soundtrack for your writing? If so what is it?
I have a writing playlist, but I never add to it and it’s only about 25 songs, all pretty mellow stuff. I just play it on an endless loop and don’t even hear it anymore. At this point, my brain hears those songs and knows that it’s writing time.
Now for the slightly more serious stuff …
Congratulations on the publication of your latest novel, The Familiar Dark. I really enjoyed reading it (if enjoy is the right term for the subject matter). The book touches on quite a dark subject – the murder of two young girls. Where did the idea for this story come from?
I’m never exactly sure where my ideas come from. Here in the States, two young girls were murdered in Indiana a few years ago. The circumstances were completely different, but the story was in the news a lot and it haunted me. So that’s probably when I started getting the germ of an idea. But as for the overall story, I have no clue where those ideas come from. I wish I did!
Eve Taggert is a brilliant protagonist, someone I think readers can identify with. She appears to be quite strong, marred by her past and yet also learning as a result of it. Where or how did she appear to you first?
I’m not a writer who outlines and I try not to overthink the plot or the characters before I begin writing. To do so takes away the magic for me. So I had some basic ideas about Eve, but the details of her personality and character took shape on the page. Sometimes she surprised even me.
Is it important to you to have a female protagonist who has been made stronger through adversity?
I don’t consciously think about those things before I begin writing, but strong women always seem to make their way into my books. I think women are amazing and endure and persevere through so much. It seems only natural to write about women who gain strength from adversity because it’s a reality for so many of us.
One thing I have loved about the books I have read, both The Familiar Dark and The Roanoke Girls, is that both have a strong sense of place, and the small town, close community setting is as much a part of The Familiar Dark as the characters are. How important is setting to you in terms of the developing the overall story?
Setting, for me, is almost like another character in the story. I write about places that many people have never actually visited, so it’s important that I make that setting come alive. I want readers to be able to picture and really “feel” the setting as they’re reading. I always set my books in the midwest of the United States, and I try and think about which part of the midwest would serve the story in the best possible way.
The book has a strong sense of family, both positive and negative. What is it about the dark domestic noir and the conflicts that exist within families that draw readers into a story so much?
I think stories about family cut across all types of divisions. People may come from different backgrounds, races, religions, parts of the world, etc., but we all have a family or some type of origin story. And even in the healthiest of families there are always issues. My books just take those issues and turn them up about 1,000 degrees. Family, both at its best and at its worst, is something almost all of us can relate to.
Do you generally begin your writing with an idea for a character or with a particular plot in mind?
I always begin with character and setting. I generally know how a story will begin and have a vague idea about the end, but the rest is a complete mystery to me. As I get further into the story, the plot starts to take shape, but I don’t force it to go any particular way. Sometimes I’ll have a really hard time with a few chapters and that’s my nudge that I’m perhaps trying to force the story to a place it doesn’t want to go. I love the excitement of watching the story unfold as I’m writing it.
What prompted you to begin writing in the first place? Do you have any words of advice for any new writers just starting out?
I always wanted to be a writer, but I had no idea how to make that happen. I didn’t know anyone who’d had a book published or who worked in publishing and it seems like such a distant dream. So after college I went to law school and became a lawyer. But the writing bug never left me. When my children were young, I decided to stay home with them and that gave me time to delve into my writing.
I would tell new writers to read all the time. Listen more than you talk. Observe people. Finish what you start writing; it’s tempting to quit halfway through and start something new, but try not to give in to that urge. Learn to take criticism well and grow a thick skin. Rejection is part of the process, so don’t let it overwhelm you. Keep writing.
The Familiar Dark is just on the cusp of release (tomorrow) but any hints right now as to what we can expect next?
I’m hard at work on a new novel. It’s dark psychological suspense set in rural Kansas and involves a woman in prison for the murder of her entire family when she was a teenager.
Thank you so much for having me on the blog, Jen, and I appreciate your support of my books!
Thank you for taking part Amy. I’m liking the sound of that next book. Will keep an eagle eye out for it!
So what did I think about The Familiar Dark? Read on to find out …
When I first read Amy Engel’s The Roanoke Girls, I was intrigued by how she managed to take such a dark and taboo subject and turn it into a story which was, if not what you would call entertaining – stories of abuse seldom are – then at the very least intense and compelling to read, or in my case listen to. I was drawn to the complexity of the characters and of the way in which the author captured the essence of the small town existence. with The Familiar Dark we are treated to a story which is just as chilling, just as complex and completely engrossing from the very start.
This is the story of single mother Eve, whose daughter, Junie, is attacked and left to die in the town park, alongside her best friend Izzy. Two twelve year old girls struck down by an unknown killer, but was it someone that Eve knows or just a random stranger who took their lives? As we navigate the days following the murders, Amy Engel takes us on a roller coaster ride of emotion and suspense which had a devastating impact on not only the characters, but me as a reader too.
Eve is a very complicated character. Raised by a mother who had little compassion for her or her brother, Cal, she was someone who fought hard to do better by her daughter. Turning her back on the negative influences in her life, she was someone you could see rally tried and in spite of the fact that she could come across as emotionally distant, unable to display her feelings in the same open and git wrenching way that Izzy’s parents did, I really did feel for her. The author has made her a character I could understand, even in her atypical reactions, and someone I was swilling to find the truth. She is strong, determined and focused, a product of her upbringing – perhaps even more fierce because of it.
She was a stark contrast to the people around her. Her brother, Cal, was a far more emotional character. He had. the caretaker role over his sister, stepping up when their mother wouldn’t and stepping in when her attentions became violent. It was quite fitting that he became a police officer, the most together and honest of the lot of them, or so it appeared. He was the polar opposite of the Chief, a man who made the right noises about finding the killer, but someone who, nonetheless, makes the skin crawl.
This book has all the hallmarks of a dark domestic noir, the author keeping the reader on the hook with a variety of shady characters, skin crawling situations and suspense that kept me guessing until the last pages. There is a strong theme of family here – both the positive and the negative – Amy Engel never once shying away from portraying all aspects of family life. There were so many aspects that I could identify with, so many elements of the story that I feel will resonate with, and in some cases shock, the reader, that it gave a really authentic feel to the tale. It is a tough story when the murder of two children is not necessarily the hardest part of the story to read.
This is not a story of hope. There are few warm and fuzzy moments within the story, those that do surface relating to the warmth of the bond between Eve and Junie, rendered all the more emotional and powerful when put in the context of what she has lost. This is a story of the powerful nature of unconditional love, of how people may surprise you when pushed and the sacrifices that people are willing to make for those they love the most. The author keeps those surprises coming, right to the last page when it finally becomes clear that the motives of certain characters are not what you may have expected.
Yes this story is harsh at times, the narrative tinged with a deep melancholy that will have an impact upon you long after you turn that last page. There is an strong sense of place that is derived from the text and a truly authentic voice that is also tragically beautiful. In spite of everything, the very tortured nature of the story, I found that I didn’t want to turn away. I wanted to keep reading – needed to know that Eve found justice for Junie. I knew that this would be a challenging read but it is a book I definitely recommend that you pick up.
About the Author
Amy Engel is the author of THE BOOK OF IVY young adult series. A former criminal defense attorney, she lives in Missouri with her family. THE ROANOKE GIRLS was her first novel for adults.
Author Links: Twitter
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