Title: The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C. Richards
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Historical ’90s
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through Edelweiss
Set in Milwaukee during the “Dahmer summer” of 1991, A remarkable debut novel for fans of Mary Gaitskill and Gillian Flynn about two sisters—one who disappears, and one who is left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath.
In the summer of 1991, a teenage girl named Dee McBride vanished in the city of Milwaukee. Nearly thirty years later, her sister, Peg, is still haunted by her sister’s disappearance. Their mother, on her deathbed, is desperate to find out what happened to Dee so the family hires a psychic to help find Dee’s body and bring them some semblance of peace.
The appearance of the psychic plunges Peg back to the past, to those final carefree months when she last saw Dee—the summer the Journal Sentinel called “the deadliest . . . in the history of Milwaukee.” Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s heinous crimes dominated the headlines and overwhelmed local law enforcement. The disappearance of one girl was easily overlooked.
Peg’s hazy recollections are far from easy for her to interpret, assess, or even keep clear in her mind. And now digging deep into her memory raises doubts and difficult—even terrifying—questions. Was there anything Peg could have done to prevent Dee’s disappearance? Who was really to blame for the family’s loss? How often are our memories altered by the very act of voicing them? And what does it mean to bear witness in a world where even our own stories 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, and asks us to reconsider the power and truth of memory.
The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C. Richards is a grim mystery which weaves back and forth in time.
In 1991, Margaret “Peg” McBride is completely enthralled with her boyfriend, Leif Gunnarson. They live together in a hovel and spend a lot of their time drinking and partying. Peg is also trying to convince Leif to do better by his younger brother Erik. Erik is gay and the majority of his family turned their back on him so he is completely on his own in a time when gay men keep going missing.
Peg’s younger sister Candace aka Dee is attending college and she is involved with Frank, who is in his mid-thirties. The sisters’ relationship is fraught but they are quick to forgive when things go wrong between them. After a blurry July fourth together, Dee leaves Peg’s apartment and seemingly vanishes into thin air. Unfortunately, her disappearance occurs just as the Milwaukee police arrest Jeffrey Dahmer so a missing young woman is extremely low on their radar.
Fast forward to 2019 and Peg’s mother is close to dying and her only wish to find Dee’s body. Peg does not agree with her mother’s method of trying to locate her sister but her brother Pete convinces her to go along with the plan. Peg has never gotten over her guilt about Dee’s disappearance and she has now has a string of lost jobs and broken relationships behind her. She drinks too much and she remains convinced that Frank is responsible for Dee’s disappearance. The family has kept in contact with the detective assigned to Dee’s case and Peg veers between anger and shame as they work together to find Dee.
The Comfort of Monsters is a dark mystery with a unique storyline. Despite being the story’s narrator, Peg is a difficult character to get to know. There is little context for why she chooses the wrong men or deliberately sabotages decent relationships. She is teeming with guilt and drinks too much as she obsessively tries to solve Dee’s disappearance. Willa C. Richards provides a bleak portrait of a family who remains defined by Dee’s inexplicable disappearance. This intriguing mystery comes to a realistic, yet unsatisfying, conclusion.