It’s lent again, so I go through my annual agony of trying to find something to give up that is hard but not toooooooo hard and meaningful but not even a little bit intrusive.  I gave up social media a few years ago in a bid to lower my anxiety level and it was probably good for me, but wow I really accomplished nothing.  Turns out my superpower is conjuring anxiety out of any situation.  I should teach a class.  This year I have given up being lazy – not entirely, god, how would I finish the re-binge of Downton Abbey I’m currently only half way through if I didn’t lie prostrate on my couch for three hours a night?  No, just specifically in the area of absolutely forgetting that I am trying to accomplish anything around my writing.  So I have given up being lazy and am going to produce more than excuses for the next forty days by doing timed writing.  The time is so minimal it is embarrassing to admit, but any time is better than no time, yes?  This is a long intro into a book review, but it is all to say… dear reader, I will probably be posting more in the next month or so because posting on this blog is writing but it is not writing, writing, you get me?  It’s the loopholes that get me through life because I am the worst.


This is all leading me to… Ill Will by Dan Choan, a new thriller that is about to be released this month.  The story is another of those double mystery things – a current mystery that is taking place and dredging up memories of a past mystery.  At the heart of both stories is Dustin, a psychologist in Cleveland with grown-ish children who has not quite pulled it together after the recent death of his wife from cancer. 


The current mystery is somewhat bizarre… a series of seemingly accidental drowning deaths of random college boys that could be the work of a serial killer.  The evidence of this is presented to Dustin by a patient (not exactly the best way to get solid information) and together they blur every professional line possible and turn into amateur sleuths and start jumping into some very dark places. 


The past mystery is from thirty years ago, when Dustin was a child and his parents, aunt and uncle were gruesomely murdered while on a camping trip.  His adopted brother, Rusty, has been in prison for the murders ever since, but at the outset of the story Rusty has been exonerated by DNA evidence and no one has any idea what to think.  The old mystery is compelling, and made more complex by Satanic cult hysteria, which is fascinating.  


The frustrating thing about both of these stories is that Dustin is so unreliable.  He is a mess in his current life, it feels like he never really healed from his traumatic childhood, and he is all over the place – actually everyone in this book is an unreliable narrator to some extent.  This book left me incredibly uneasy, and I never quite knew where anything was going or what was happening.  There is a bit of a drug storyline, which is my absolute least favorite thing to read about for some reason, but it doesn’t go too far.  Dan Choan is one of my favorite writers when it comes to creating suspense and uneasiness, and he really goes for it here.  The book is ultimately about memory and grief and how violence and trauma imprint themselves on us.  The story is ambitious and dark and I recommend reading it in bright sunlight with pictures of kittens nearby.


Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the advanced copy.


Ill Will by Dan Choan – Grade B+