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The Monsters We Make Kali White Main

"The Monsters We Make" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Crooked Lane Books

the monsters we make kali white poster large

Written by Kali White
2020, 350 pages, Fiction
Released on 9th June 2020

Review:

If you’re seeking out an exceptionally well written and gripping thriller with convincing elements of real horror, then look no further than Kali White’s The Monsters We Make. I raced through this genuine page-turner over a weekend and thoroughly enjoyed being taken back to the mid-1980s and the fallout surrounding the disappearance of two schoolboys in a small Midwestern town. The story kicks off after the disappearance of the second boy, one year after the first, with the narrative following three contrasting perspectives who are all connected to the case. The original snatching, from a neighbouring town, was never solved and still haunts the policemen involved in the ongoing investigation, even if he is no longer actively part of it. Before long, you will be sweating as the length of time since the initial disappearance stretches, the clock ticks, and the chances of him turning up alive shorten by the hour.

The Monsters We Make is based upon and inspired by the real-life Des Moines Register paperboy kidnappings from the early 1980s and this fact grounds the book, giving it grit and an extra level of realism. In fact, the paperboy Johnny Gosch was the first picture ever to appear on a milk carton. There are no banana twists, or stunning big reveals like you might find in a Harlan Coban novel; the action is considerably more realistic and downbeat, with the reader tapping into the anxieties and pain of the characters involved, which heighten as the police draw blanks.

The action starts early in the morning of August 12th, 1984. Thirteen-year-old Christopher Stewart has been missing for one hour, vanishing close from home whilst on his weekend paper-run. The police are scratching their heads and there are no obvious suspects. Whilst the clock ticks the novel cleverly morphs into a convincing family drama which is played out on several fronts, interestingly, never from the perspective of Christopher’s parents. The ripple effect of the disappearance touches all three main characters and their secrets, or potential involvement, are revealed at a pace which keeps readers on their toes.

Sammy Cox is the youngest of the three protagonists The Monsters We Make is told through and on the morning of the disappearance the boy is running home, sweating, and has pissed himself through stress and fear. He is overweight, has few friends, anger issues and other problems his overworked hairdresser mother is either too busy to help with or unaware of. The author depicts a believable working-class family struggling to pay the rent. Twelve-year-old Sammy’s story is drip-fed to the reader and it is a harrowing and believable account of how keeping secrets can lead to places of overwhelming darkness, particularly for children. Combined, fear and silence are barriers which are hard to break through and Kali White convincingly gets into the head of an isolated and troubled boy.

When the action moves to Sammy’s elder sister Crystal, the complex and involving story is told from a fresh perspective and spreads the tension into new directions. Although the seventeen-year-old is aware her little brother is unhappy and is shocked by the vanishing, she also sees it as an opportunity; she dreams of being a journalist and believes her own investigation could result in an article which she could enter in a college scholarship competition. Crystal is very intelligent and makes connections with the earlier unsolved disappearance from the neighbouring town and begins to dig into old newspaper clippings. Crystal’s mother is short of money and does not support this college dream, causing friction in the household, with her absent father also out of the picture. I really liked Crystal, a working-class girl trying to break free of her roots, but who has a great heart and plays a big part carrying the narrative forward.

The third plotline follows Sergeant Dale Goodnick, who is just about to clock out after completing his night shift when the case drops; this is made worse for Dale, as he was involved in the earlier unsolved snatching. As the case develops, Dale struggles to confront his own demons, deal with his marriage problems, the son he fails to connect and conflicts with police colleagues, which results in cracks in the investigation.

Combined, the three narratives build towards an unpredictable chain of events which touch these characters in unexpected but very believable ways. From a reader’s point of view, it is interesting to follow a forty-year-old case based on an authentic police investigation and at certain points you may well wonder what they might do differently now with all the advances in technology and profiling. The Netflix TV show Mindhunters shows how these advances came around, but in this story the author implies that the police were slow in realising what they were up against.

Convincingly set to the backdrop of the 1984 Olympics and the iconic race between Zola Budd and Mary Decker, The Monsters We Make is an excellent read which should appeal to both horror and thriller fans. My only gripe is that there are not enough potential suspects. I realise this is not the type of thriller to revel in a ‘twist’ ending, but it is telegraphed slightly, with a weak red herring thrown into the mix. However, I will give Kali White a pass on this, as it’s tough to create a villain for a murder that was never solved. Highly recommended.

Grades:

Overall: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Writer
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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