Kate’s Review: “Jackal”

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Book: “Jackal” by Erin E. Adams

Publishing Info: Bantam, October 2022

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: It’s watching.

Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward and passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the bride’s daughter, Caroline, goes missing—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.

It’s taking.

As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: a summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart missing. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.

It’s your turn.

With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.

Review: Thank you to Bantam and NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

I love it when books I haven’t heard of wind up in my email, as it gives me a reason to expand my horizons a bit AND the potential to find a story I may not have discovered so quickly otherwise. When I opened up the email that described “Jackal” by Erin E. Adams, it had a number of traits that caught my eye. One, it’s described as horror, always a plus. Two, I’m always eager to read horror by authors of color. Three, the missing person thriller is always a subgenre I’m going to be all over. So I went into this book with anticipation, and I am happy to report that I was pretty happy with it!

As mentioned, I love a missing person story, and “Jackal” has that along with some supernatural beats. Adams slowly builds up the suspense and dread by showing us a few of the moments where other Black girls have gone missing and subsequently found with their hearts missing, culminating with our protagonist Liz, whose best friend’s daughter Caroline is the newest missing girl. Liz takes it upon herself to try and find Caroline, as the local police are dragging their feet, and she is considered a suspect due to the fact she was the last person to see Caroline at her mother Mel’s wedding. Though let’s be honest; it’s also because Liz is Black. As Liz tries to piece things together to find Caroline and clear her name, she starts to find a patter of other Black girls who have gone missing and wound up dead. I loved watching Liz find the clues, and was very affected by how the stakes get higher and higher and Liz gets more and more desperate. By the time we got to the supernatural reveal, it didn’t click QUITE as much for me as I had hoped it would, but I think that may be more on my own expectations on what was going on. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll just kind of leave it at that. I do think this book is both thriller and horror overall, it’s just that the thriller elements were a bit stronger. It’s still a strong story, suspense wise.

But it’s the real life horrors of this book that really stand out. Adams effectively captures Liz’s experience in this small Rust Belt town, and how much Othering she felt because of her race, just as she captures the inaction taken by the authorities over missing Black girls in the community. Liz left Johnstown and rarely looked back, and when you see what it’s like for her when she returns you completely understand her need to get out. Some of the reasons are less obvious, like microaggressions she experiences from those around her, to the way she felt a need to conform to fit in. Others are more blatant, like the fact that her white best friend’s family is very clearly suspicious or dismissive of her even though they have known her for years and she has given no reason for them to be that way. And there is, of course, the maddening truths of a clear pattern of young Black girls disappearing and then ending up brutally killed, and the community just doesn’t really seem to care, leaving the loved ones left behind to mourn and suffer without any hope of justice. There are other more spoilery examples of this, some of which involve the way that goal posts are shifted by a racist society once Black people are able to find success for themselves, but I’m leaving that as is, once again. Just know these tidbits are far reaching and well conceived.

“Jackal” is suspenseful and eerie, an effective thriller with real life horrors to draw fear from. I am absolutely going to be looking at what Erin E. Adams does next.

Rating 8: A thrilling mystery with supernatural and horror elements, “Jackal” is a missing person story that has larger questions about societal and systemic racism.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Jackal” is included on the Goodreads lists “Mystery/Thriller/Detective Books Featuring and Written by Black Women (Part 4)”, and “Anticipated Literary Reads for Readers of Color 2022”.

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