14 April 2015

The Devil You Know - Elisabeth De Mariaffi

The Devil You KnowThe Devil You Know explores one woman’s paranoia and anxiety against the backdrop of a real-life murder case in Toronto.

The blurb always closes the curtains:

Rookie crime beat reporter Evie Jones is haunted by the unsolved murder of her best friend in 1982. The suspected killer was never apprehended. Now twenty-two, Evie is obsessively drawn to finding the murderer. She leans on childhood friend David Patton for help – but why does every trail seem to lead back to David’s father? As she gets closer to the truth, Evie becomes convinced that the killer is still at large – and that he’s coming back for her.

Elisabeth De Mariaffi’s stylish debut takes place at the beginning of the 90s, in an age when the print media was still dominant, when there were no mobile phones and computers shuddered louder than fridges while booting up. A terrific sense of fear and anxiety pulses through the story. It has the chilling pre-internet atmosphere of one of those gritty 70s crime movies, set on empty, untidy suburban streets piled with dirty snow.

The story is set against the investigation into real-life Canadian serial killer Paul Bernardo. Evie, who’s staking out his house, is obsessed by the murder of her best friend Lianne, and her investigations into her disappearance –- and the apparent death of the man accused of her murder—takes the lid of a whole barrel of secrets involving her parents and the father of her long-suffering fuck-buddy David. Meanwhile Evie believes she’s being stalked by a man who keeps turning up at night outside her apartment. Trouble is, nobody else has seen him…

There’s a lot to like in De Mariaffi’s novel, which works as a psychological thriller and a study of obsession and paranoia, as well as a crime novel. The author is a respected short-story writer and the narrative is full of true-life fragments and references which, more than anything, give the story an unsettling state of mind, such as Bernardo, Charles Manson and his Family, the Branch Davidians.

It’s a terse story, sometimes a little cold in the telling –- the lack of quotation marks gives it a self-consciously literary vibe—and Evie is not necessarily the most likeable of characters, but her damaged childhood gives her a compelling drive that powers the story forward.

The Devil You Know picks up a few creepy tropes and runs with them –- the cabin in the woods, the mysterious photograph, the menacing lurker –- but you get the feeling De Mariaffi uses the crime stuff as an envelope to deliver her themes. It’s a book that asks how we remember those murdered girls who have been knocked off the front-page by the latest lurid headlines –- she gives us a long list –- and examines the nagging vulnerability women carry all their lives.

Despite its subject matter, it’s good to read a book that is full of strong and complex women –- Evie, her hard-drinking newspaper boss Angie, and particularly, her likeable but secretive mother, forced to address her past when all the skeletons come tumbling out.

I’d like to have seen a few more twists and turns, I guess, but The Devil You Know is a thoughtful and anxious thriller about secrets, obsession and how predators often hide in plain sight.

Thanks to Titan for the review copy. I’m delighted to say that Elisabeth De Mariaffi will be giving us the intel on The Devil You Know, and the terror of writing her first full-length novel, later in the week—so look out for that!