What You Don't Know
JoAnn Chaney
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Buy *What You Don't Know* by JoAnn Chaneyonline

What You Don't Know
JoAnn Chaney
Flatiron Books
Hardcover
320 pages
February 2017
rated 5 of 5 possible stars

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Different chapters present perspectives of an abandoned wife, a beautiful journalist, and a cynical, down-on-his-luck Denver detective who in 2008 arrests Jacky Seever, found to have murdered 31 people. Detectives Ralph Loren and Paul Hoskins were both present when the bodies were pulled from the crawl-space underneath Seever’s house. The grisly find previewed what was to come in an investigation exploring the initial horror of Seever’s obsessive behavior. After Seever’s conviction, his wife, Gloria, was branded as an outcast, forced to live in a dumpy furnished apartment while her husband sat in prison. Although the police cleared her as a suspect, Gloria could always feel the bile rising in her throat at the cruel attributions leveled at her.

Moving from the past to the present, Chaney presents Seever’s murderous rampage through the eyes of Loren, Hoskins, and reporter Sammie Peterson, who had an affair with Hoskins during Seever’s original investigation. Shortly after, Sammie broke off the arrangement in order to stay with her husband, Dean. After Seever was bought to trial in 2009, Loren and Paul Hoskins received commendations and promotions. Her articles covering the case made Sammie something of a local celebrity. Gloria, meanwhile, had to learn how to live in the world without her husband.

Unfortunately, the team’s accomplishments prove to be short-lived when a Seever-style rampage restarts a full seven years after his conviction. Nearly everyone has forgotten about Seever except 19-year-old Carrie Simms, the only person who managed to escape Seever’s crawl space. Carrie is swept up in a new investigation involving two women who were murdered and possibly raped before being dumped in a local reservoir. With Seever incarcerated, the police conclude that a copycat killer is on the loose. Without confiding to Sammie (who had interviewed both the women shortly after Seever’s arrest), Hoskins and Loren are bought back to investigate the case. As the pieces of an ugly picture fall into place, the now disgraced Hoskins looks for clues in Seever’s past, this “sanctimonious son of a bitch who liked to play games and to toy with them.” Loren decides to dress up as Seever, putting on a clown costume and makeup then heading down to “prance around” at the local hospital.

The sheer menace of this novel is extraordinary. Dark and oppressive, Chaney's story slowly pares away humanity, revealing the shadowy muck of pain and of desire. Seever’s fanatical killings are secondary to Hoskins, Sammie and Gloria’s private demons. In dialogue that is both minimal and elliptical, Chaney delves deep into their inner lives--predominantly Gloria, who continues to visit Seever in prison. Beyond the mundane conversations of their marriage and the bulletproof glass, this psycho husband still controls his fearful, emotionally dependent wife. Her entire identity wrapped up in “being the wife of Jacky Seever,” Gloria sells Jacky’s macabre paintings, a series of sinister works of clowns and the ghoulish faces of his victims.

In Chaney's world, society hides slaughterers who disguise themselves as friendly neighbors. Hoskins remains haunted by his memories of Seever’s victims--their mutilated hands, just stumps that sometimes “still weep with pus and blood and rot.” Sammie has resorted to working in the cosmetics section of a local department store. Seever made Sammie’s career, and “he would do it again.” She still thinks about him as she flips through the scrapbook containing all her articles on him. Sammie is hopeful that Seever’s crimes--especially if he’s connected to this new spate of murders--is a big enough story to remake her writing career.

Throughout, Seever continues to hold court. Like the evil psychopath Hannibal Lecter, Seever seems to thrive in the wake of the SecondHand Killer, manipulating and controlling Gloria while he attempts to dismantle Sammie. Sammie finds herself left in the dark by Hoskins, groping around “without knowing what she’s looking for.” While there is little mystery behind the identity of the Secondhand Killer, it is fascinating to watch Hoskins and Sammie continually allow themselves to be blindsided by their latent attraction to each other. Surprisingly, Dean becomes a sort of anti-hero, once again torn asunder then put back together by his wife’s past infidelity with Hoskins.

Chaney’s novel is one of the most disturbing, riveting, exquisitely executed novels I have read in recent memory. Beyond the journey through the dark marriage of an emotionally abusive killer and his timid, devoted wife, the real story here is how an unrelenting monster can lurk among us--and how moral dilemmas, dark secrets, and deep disappointments can hijack those who wish to stop him.



Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at www.curledup.com. © Michael Leonard, 2017

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