Friday, February 17, 2023

The Devil You Knew by Mike Cobb

Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Pages: 480 pages
Published: September 1, 2022

The Devil You Knew is a mystery thriller written by author Mike Cobb. The book is broken into two parts that chronologically correspond within the two years the bulk of the plot takes places — 1963 and 1980 in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1963, three young girls go missing, and the city of Atlanta goes on the hunt for a serial killer. A young, 11-year old William "Binky" (later referred to as Billy in 1980) Tarwater is infatuated with one of the kidnapped girls. As an adult, Billy gets caught up in the suspense of the crimes, and he finds himself in a pursuit of justice for Sam "Shorty" Jepperson, the Black man whom the crimes were pinned on. Sam was ultimately convicted and serving a life sentence for a crime he and his family claim he did not commit. Throughout this nearly 500-page novel and two-decade timespan, the reader is taken on a plot twist-filled journey with Billy, now a journalist, who seems to be one of the few people concerned with truth and justice for all. 

Because the central action of the book takes place in the South in the 60s, one can imagine there were several themes of racism, prejudice and sexism. Additionally, the author has included a large cast of characters that serve as red herrings. Many of those characters are conservative Christians and those typical stereotypes were played into creating intrigue and confusion in determining who the true person is that perpetrated these horrible crimes. While each chapter of the book vacillates from one character to the next in perspective, I did enjoy the main character's narration, especially in the first part of the book. Binky Tarwater reminded me of the main character in the popular TV series, The Wonder Years (either the original or reboot). 

Once the book transitions to 1980, there was more tension in the writing as Billy felt time-pressed to help free Sam Jepperson. Furthermore, the author juxtaposed the fictional crimes of 1963 with the very real crimes of the Atlanta Child Murders between 1979 and 1981. Honestly, I am not typically able to guess the conclusion of whodunit and nor do I want to. I enjoy the journey of reading. However, I was able to discern where the book was going rather early on, but that did not take away from the overall story. My only criticism of the book is it's a little long and verbose. I think the author could find a wider reader following by staying within 350 to 400 pages and curbing some of the vocabulary (e.g., deadheading, Klippel-Feil syndrome, etc.). Some readers just aren't going to take the time to stop and look up the words and others may stop reading all together. 

Recommendation: This was an excellent book with an engaging mystery and (somewhat) satisfying conclusion. The author says that research is paramount to his writing style, and any reader can clearly identify that in how he wove true crimes into this fictional one.  I look forward to reading more from this author. 

Trigger warnings: child violence, domestic violence, racial epithets 

Until next time ... Read on!

Thanks to Reedsy Discovery for an electronic copy of this book. If you'd like to review for Reesdy Discovery, please visit my affiliate link. Regardless of whether I purchase a book, borrow a book, or receive a book in exchange for review, my ultimate goal is to be honest, fair, and constructive. I hope you've found this review helpful.

Mike Cobb's body of literary work includes both fiction and nonfiction, short-form and long-form, as well as articles and blogs. While he is comfortable playing across a broad range of topics, much of his focus is on true crime, crime fiction and historical fiction. Rigorous research is foundational to his writing. He gets that honestly, having spent much of his professional career as a scientist. He vehemently refuses to box his work into a specific genre. Mike splits his time between Atlanta and Blue Ridge, Gerorgia. 


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