What You Don’t Know by Joann Chaney

The Blurb On The Back:

A crime like this has a wide reach … That’s how things are – a drop in still water that starts a ripple … It’ll never be over … 

Seven years ago, thirty-one bodies were discovered in a crawl-space belonging to Jacky Seever, beloved local businessman and pillar of the community.

Detective Paul Hoskins was lauded for bringing down one of the most ruthless serial-killers of the decade.

Sammie Peterson, the lead reporter on the case, finally obtained the success she craved.

And Seever’s wife, Gloria?  Well, she claimed to be as surprised as everyone else.

But when you get that close to a killer, can you really just move on?

Today, all three of their lives are in ruins – Hoskins banished to cold cases, Sammie working at the mall and Gloria marked out as the wife of a monster.

So when a series of copy-cat killings provided an opportunity to get their lives back, they have little choice but to take it.  Whatever the cost to their humanity …  

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

December 2008: Denver, Colorado.  Detectives Paul Hoskins and Ralph Loren are partners investigating the disappearance of a number of people from the city.  An anonymous tip leads them to Jacky Seever, the popular owner of a number of local restaurants who dresses up as a clown to entertain sick children.  But Seever is also a serial killer and Hoskins and Loren find 31 bodies in the crawl space beneath the house Jacky shares with his wife, Gloria.

December 2015.  Haunted by the confessions that Seever made to him, Hoskins has developed anger issues that saw him demoted from homicide to the cold case unit in the basement of the police station.  His ex-lover, Sammie Peterson was a local reporter whose coverage of the case made her name but downsizing at the newspaper means that she’s now reduced to working as a make-up salesperson at the local mall.  Gloria always insisted that she knew nothing of Jacky’s crimes and is trying to live quietly while visiting Jacky in jail (where he waits on death row) – sometimes selling the paintings he’s made to earn extra money after his legal defence burnt through their savings, although there’s less interest in Jacky’s crimes …

Until a new killer emerges who’s targeting people associated with Seever’s crimes.

Dubbed the Second-Hand Killer, the link to the Seever case sees Hoskins moved back to homicide to help Loren investigate.  Sammie sees the new killer as a way to get back onto the newspaper and make her name all over again and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the scoop – even if it means exploiting her own connection with Seever, a connection she’s long kept secret.  Gloria though just wants the case to go away because raking up the past only makes her remember her marriage to Jacky, memories that she still isn’t ready to confront …

Joann Chaney’s assured debut crime thriller is for the most part a sharply plotted affair that deftly switches between the three main protagonists and fully explores what happens to the main players once a serial killer is captured but it’s spoilt by the fact that the killer is far too easy to guess, Sammie is a bit of a caricature, the final quarter falls into cliché and a key question is left unanswered.

I really enjoyed the confidence with which Chaney writes – from the knowing references to how a movie would establish the characters and scenes to her ability to establish the voices for each of Hoskins, Sammie and Gloria and the way she slowly teases out their stories.  Hoskins and Gloria are the better realised characters, particularly Gloria whose miserable upbringing contributes to her wilful blindness to who her husband is and what he’s been doing.  For the most part I believed in Hoskins and the damage he suffered from having to listen to Seever’s confession but for me his anger issues were a little over done and I didn’t believe in the police department’s reaction when his behaviour crosses the line.  Sammie, unfortunately, crossed into caricature in relation to the lengths she’d go to in order to get a story and the impact this has on her marriage and I don’t think her connection to Seever actually added much to the plot, which is a shame because I believed in her frustration at being stuck as a make-up consultant while a rival journalist goes to get the story and Chaney does well at showing her discontent and confusion at the way her life has turned out.

My main problem with the book is that I guessed the killer the moment they first appear on the page, which is a big issue – especially when the inevitable reveal comes as the killer really lacks any depth.  In fact the final quarter with its reveals do slide into cliché – especially the big reveal scene because although I could see what Chaney was going for in terms of ramping up the tension, it just didn’t seem remotely believable to me and I did roll my eyes at times.  The other big issue is that much is made in the book about something that both Seever and the Second-Hand Killer do to the bodies and it’s never explained why (although a final postscript kind of hints at something without making it explicit).

Despite my issues with the book, I’d stress that it is still a strong debut and worth checking out and I would definitely check out what Chaney writes next.

Thanks to the Amazon Vine Programme for the review copy of this book.

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