Check It Out: Ill Will

May 30, 2017

Today, I’m recommending 2001 National Book Award finalist Dan Chaon’s latest Ill Will, a chilling novel of psychological suspense. Dubbed by The Washington Post as “The scariest novel of the year”, their review states that, “Chaon’s novel walks along a garrote stretched taut between Edgar Allan Poe and Alfred Hitchcock.”

Since reading the latest psychological thrillers from big-name authors like Gillian Flynn, Ruth Ware, and Paula Hawkins, I’ve been on the hunt for a book that would grab me just like those books did. Ill Will by Dan Chaon fits the bill.   

“We are always telling a story to ourselves, about ourselves.” This is one of the little mantras Dustin Tillman likes to share with his patients, and it’s meant to be reassuring. But what if that story is a lie?

A psychologist in suburban Cleveland, Dustin, is drifting through his early forties—as an inadequate father to his sons and recent widower—when  he hears the news: His adopted brother, Rusty, is being released from prison. Thirty years ago, Rusty received a life sentence for the massacre of Dustin’s parents, aunt, and uncle. The trial came to epitomize the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults and despite the lack of physical evidence, the jury believed the outlandish accusations Dustin and his cousin made against Rusty. Now, DNA analysis has overturned the conviction, making Rusty a free man.  

Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients, a former policeman has been feeding him stories of the drowning deaths of a string of drunk college boys. Initially, Dustin dismisses his patient's suggestion that a serial killer is at work as paranoia, but as the two embark on an amateur investigation, Dustin starts to believe that there’s more to the deaths than sheer coincidence. He soon becomes obsessed, crossing all professional boundaries—and ends up putting his own family in harm’s way.

An intensely readable and shadowy novel, Ill Will deftly explores two sensational unsolved crimes—one in the past, another in the present—linked by one man’s memory and tautly spun tales of self-deception.   With the bleak Ohio winter landscape serving as backdrop, Chaon has skillfully written a page-turning, creepy tale that keeps readers guessing till the very end.   

Check out Ill Will and other great works of psychological suspense like it at the Sioux City Public Library.

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Support for Check It Out comes from Avery Brothers.