Book Review: WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW by JoAnn Chaney

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW by JoAnn Chaney was one of those books I knew I absolutely had to read after checking out the blurb. The novel picks up where most crime fiction novels end – after the chase is over and the killer is behind bars, and this makes WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW an intriguing as hell read.

Jacky Seever is a community do-gooder and a restauranteur who likes to entertain and amuse kids by dressing up like a clown (nothing evil about that). He’s also the man who raped and killed 33 people and buried them in the crawl space of his house. Seven years after he’s put on death row, the murders start again, in signature Seever style. In the light of the renewed interest in the case, WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW explores multi-dimensional characters who are most affected by the Seever investigation: his wife Gloria, detectives Hoskins and Loren, and Sammie, the journalist whose career picked off because of Seever.

These four are arguably Seever’s biggest victims. Years after the case wrapped up, people still question whether Gloria, Seever’s wife, knew about the victims and decided to turn a blind eye to her husband’s evil activities. If you’ve ever wondered about the wives of serial killers (many real life serial killers have been known to be in stable relationships in their killing years), then Gloria is reason enough to pick up this brilliant crime fiction.

The detectives Hoskins and Loren exchanged some of my favourite dialogues, they were an interesting pair to watch at work. They’re far from exemplary themselves; Hoskins is prone to violent outbursts that have him demoted at the precinct, and temper aside, Loren is a little too obsessed with Seever, he even dresses like him. While the detectives return to tracing the killer’s trail, Sammie is looking for a way back to journalism from her current job selling makeup at the mall. She’ll do anything to write about the copycat murderer on the loose.

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW is a fascinating insight into how you can’t really kill evil, and that “..knowing things another person is capable of, well, those things stay with you, they change you.” The novel explores how knowledge of evil and how being involved in the Seever investigation changes these character’s lives. For example, Hoskins regularly slips into moments doused in dark and evil thoughts, revealing how psychologically disturbed he is, especially at the mention of Seever’s name.

The words “It’ll never be over.” haunt the pages of the novel, almost becoming a symbol for the evil that can never die. One passage describes how evil, even after you may kill it, lives on forever within us and in the air we breathe. It was extremely creepy to me because it’s so believable. The entire novel’s plausibility makes WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW the excellent thriller that it is, especially in its unflinching insight into people and relationships, especially marriage.

The characters in WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW all have personal struggles against evil, and they’re grappling in their fight with it. As their perspectives come together, you’ll find it harder to have an answer for what’s going on. This was definitely a major plus in the novel; the various narratives were all so intense and important in their own right that you could never really say for sure who the new killer is or what’s really going on.

The novel was perfectly paced as a psychological thriller, with enough creepy and horrifying details to make you keep the light switched on. I do think some readers might find this book slow-paced, but it’s compensated with the character studies. Overall, I loved that there were almost no likeable characters; that makes it so realistic and believable. I personally think a completely innocent character can polarise a reader’s suspicions within the thriller, and that’s something I don’t like because life isn’t black and white either. In that regard, the psychological aspect in this novel was brilliantly illustrated.

WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW is now one of my favourites, especially because it was so easy for me to get invested in this gripping story. Don’t miss this solid debut and a creepily satisfying serial killer thriller. JoAnn Chaney is a promising new voice in crime fiction, I’d read anything she writes and I believe she’s working on her next novel which is set in the same world as Seever’s story.

BTW, in an online interview, the author mentioned these actors as her dream cast and it’s literally perfect:

Jacky Seever: Stacy Keach

Gloria Seever: Sissy Spacek

Paul Hoskins: Christopher Meloni

Ralph Loren: Patrick Kilpatrick

Sammie Peterson: Robin Tunney

Goodreads, Book Depository.

Thank you Flatiron Books for sending me a copy of the book.

PS: Once you’re done reading WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW , look up John Wayne Gacy, Chaney’s inspiration for Seever’s character. It’s very creepy so read up only if you can handle it.

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3 thoughts on “Book Review: WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW by JoAnn Chaney

  1. This sounds so interesting! As horrible as it sounds, murder mysteries and serial killers intrigue me so much, and I have never read a book like this before. Adding this to my TBR!

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