Wednesday 26 January 2022

The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C Richards BLOG TOUR #TheComfortOfMonsters #WillaCRichards @PointBlankCrime @RandomTTours #BookReview


In the summer of 1991, teen Dee McBride vanished in the city of Milwaukee. It was the summer the Journal Sentinel dubbed ‘the deadliest . . . in the history of Milwaukee.’ Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s heinous crimes dominated the headlines and the disappearance of one girl was easily overlooked. 

2019, nearly thirty years later, Dee's sister, Peg, is still haunted by her disappearance. Desperate to find out what happened to her, the family hire a psychic and Peg is plunged back into the past. But Peg’s hazy recollections are far from easy to interpret and digging deep into her memory raises terrifying questions. How much trust can we place in our own recollections?  How often are our memories altered by the very act of speaking them aloud?  And what does it mean to bear witness in a world where even our own stories about what happened are inherently suspect? 

A heartbreaking page-turner, Willa C. Richards’ debut novel is the story of a broken family looking for answers in the face of the unknown.

The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C Richards was published on 13 January 2022 by Point Blank. My thanks to the publisher who sent my copy for review as part of this #RandomThingsTours Blog Tour.

This is one of the most startlingly extraordinary debut novels that I've read for a long long time. It's the type of book that draws the reader in and totally consumes their waking hours. It's dark, sometimes complicated but beautifully structured. Filled with characters who appear so totally life like and set amongst a background of a Milwaukee that is struggling to come to terms with some heinous crimes. 

A dual-time narrative, narrated in the main by Peg McBride.  Peg's sister Dee disappeared almost thirty years ago and the opening paragraphs find her and her family engaging the help of a celebrity physic to try to find out just what happened to her. Peg has dedicated her life to trying to bring the man that she believes murdered Dee to justice. However, the police have always said that there's no body, so no case, and despite her meticulous research, that man remains at large. 

Dee's disappearance coincided with one of the worst serial killer cases of US history. Jeffrey Dahmer had killed so many young men. The majority of his victims were black and/or homosexual, and whilst the country was horrified by the discovery of these crimes, there was a lot of victim shaming. The victim's name have not been remembered, only the facts that they were desperate, led a different lifestyle, and maybe were not really that important. 

The story is quite dense at times, and it took me longer than usual to read this novel. This is not a criticism though, it is purely because the writing is so well crafted and the narrative so wonderfully done that I felt as though I needed to slow down, and savour the whole thing.

This is not just a story of murder and social justice though, it is a precise and sharp look at family behaviour and how one event can shape a life. Both Peg and Dee were damaged women, seeming to attract men who were violent toward them, yet accepting and almost defending those choices. They both had an element of self-harming behaviour; taking drugs, eating badly and generally having little self esteem. It would be really fascinating to know if Peg's life would have taken a different course if Dee had not disappeared all of those years ago. Would she be a success in her job? Would she have a happy relationship? The questions are endless. 

The author shows just how the authorities can and do treat victims of crime. How if you are not the 'norm'; white, middle/upper class, straight, law abiding and employed, you seem to be worth far less. Despite the fact that the victims in this case all being human, all having people who loved and cared for them; the serial killer has become the famous name, whilst they have been forgotten.
Dee's disappearance amongst the hysteria of the Dahmer case just made her disappear a little bit more. 

This author is such a talent. This is a stark, tense and often disturbing story but it is fabulous and I highly recommend it.

WILLA C. RICHARDS is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she was a Truman Capote
Fellow. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review and she is the recipient of a PEN/Robert J. Dau Prize for Emerging Writers. 

The Comfort of Monsters is her debut novel.

Willa was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1990. Both her parents are archaeologists and professors at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. She has three sisters and a brother.

The Comfort of Monsters was inspired by a case her mother worked on as an historic archaeologist. In 2014 she was contacted by a family who, based on a tip-off they received from a psychic, believed their missing daughter was buried in an old cemetery on the Milwaukee County grounds. Willa’s mother helped organise the excavation over that summer, and Willa volunteered as a field tech along with a handful of others. No remains were ever found.

Willa C. Richards on the Jeffrey Dahmer case:

Instagram @willacatherr

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