Ian Colford’s Reviews > What You Don’t Know

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What You Don’t Know by JoAnn Chaney

Read in October 2017

3 of 5 stars

Most crime novels featuring serial killers end with the killer’s arrest, conviction or death. Joann Chaney’s dark and chilling first novel, What You Don’t Know, turns this formula on its ear. The novel begins in 2008 with wealthy restaurateur and serial killer Jacky Seever’s conviction, thanks to the efforts of two homicide detectives—the eccentric and intense Ralph Loren and his long-suffering partner Paul Hoskins—after multiple bodies are unearthed in the crawl space of Seever’s Denver house. The other characters of note in the original case are Gloria Seever, who pleaded ignorance of her husband’s actions, though many people remain unconvinced, and Sammie Peterson, a writer for the Denver Post whose series of articles on the case gave her career a serious boost, and who was also a former employee and girlfriend of Seever. New challenges arise in 2015, with Seever safely behind bars, when more bodies start turning up bearing Seever’s signature mutilation, a detail that was never released to the public. After seven years some changes have taken place: Loren remains in homicide but his eccentricities have become more acute (he has begun dressing and grooming himself to look like Seever), and Loren works alone because Hoskins, following a violent public outburst, has been banished to the basement to work on cold cases. Gloria Seever is still in the picture, though she can no longer enjoy her husband’s wealth because all the money was spent on his defense, and Sammie Peterson has lost her job with the Post and to make ends meet has been reduced to selling cosmetics in a shopping mall. Chaney brings a firm hand to a multifaceted story, steering the action along slowly as the new murders are investigated and puzzling clues emerge, bestowing her troubled characters with richly detailed inner lives, creating a suspenseful narrative of great depth and complexity, and sprinkling her tale with darkly sardonic observations on human nature. What You Don’t Know is an unexpected treat: a crime novel featuring a fascinating main cast written in prose that is lucid, uninhibited and atmospheric. Even if the ending falls a bit flat, the story is undeniably creepy and peppered with scenes that are disturbing and memorable. A very promising debut.