The Devil You Know is Elisabeth de Mariaffi's first novel. Her previous short story collection was longlisted for the Giller Prize.
de Mariaffi sets her book in 1993 Toronto. Paul Bernardo has just been arrested and young reporter Evie Jones has been assigned to the story. It's suspected that Bernardo is also the Scarborough rapist that terrorized Toronto women in the late eighties before moving on to murder.
Evie's childhood friend Lianne was also abducted when the girls were young, with her body found eleven days later. This past event is never far from Evie's mind and colours much of her present. When she looks out her apartment window one night and sees a hooded man standing on the fire escape staring back, her anxiety levels ratchet even higher. As she continues to investigate Lianne's death, she finds disturbing connections to her own life. But is she really seeing someone or imagining it? Are those footsteps someone behind her? Did she leave her door unlocked? Is there someone else in the room with her? de Mariaffi does a great job ratcheting up the tension with seemingly innocent sounds and innocuous actions taking on sinister tones and meaning.
Evie was a difficult character for me. Although I knew I should feel some greater sense of sympathy or empathy for her, she made me angry with her careless actions. Some of her decisions seem at great odds with her mental state and fears - especially in the last few chapters. I did enjoy the voice of reason from David, Evie's friend. David's father was especially creepy.
de Mariaffi does capture time and place extremely well. She herself grew up in Toronto during this time period. And de Mariaffi's best childhood friend Sharin' Morningstar Keenan was indeed murdered. And this is where I start having a problem with the book. I'm old enough to remember these crimes, the warnings and the increased dangers associated with being a woman in Toronto at that time. But I also remember the victims of Bernardo's crimes. de Mariaffi uses those facts and names in her book. The murder and possible suspect of Lianne's killing is also drawn from Keenan's case. I can't imagine the families of Leslie Mahaffy, Kristen French or Allison Parrot need reminders of their daughters deaths used in a fictional work.
de Marriaffi's blending of fact and fiction just didn't work for me. Inserting her own character and her experience into borrowed real life situations seems a bit too easy. Can I also mention that Charles Manson also figures in a plot that stretched incredulity to the breaking point by the end. I found de Mariaffi's exclusion of quotation marks and one person point of view narrative annoying. Overall, this was a miss for me and just didn't live up to the publisher's blurbs "In the vein of Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects". If you're so inclined - here's a link to an excerpt of The Devil You Know.