Thanks to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: March 7th, 2017
Synopsis: “We are always telling a story to ourselves, about ourselves,” Dustin Tillman likes to say. It’s one of the little mantras he shares with his patients, and it’s meant to be reassuring. But what if it’s a lie?
A psychologist in suburban Cleveland, Dustin is drifting through his forties 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 symbolize the 1980s hysteria over Satanic cults; despite the lack of physical evidence, the jury believed the outlandish accusations Dustin and his cousin made against Rusty. Now, after DNA analysis has overturned the conviction, Dustin braces for a reckoning.
Meanwhile, one of Dustin’s patients gets him deeply engaged in a string of drowning deaths involving drunk college boys. At first Dustin dismisses talk of a serial killer as paranoid thinking, but as he gets wrapped up in their amateur investigation, Dustin starts to believe that there’s more to the deaths than coincidence. Soon he becomes obsessed, crossing all professional boundaries–and putting his own family in harm’s way.
Ill Will is the first book I’ve read by bestselling author and National Book Award winner Dan Chaon, and I was so excited when I was approved for this on NetGalley, but after finishing it last night, I’m left with a feeling of overwhelming frustration. While there were some parts that were complete and total genius, there are just too many issues I had with this and the bad wound up outweighing the good. I’m trying to think where to even begin. The story’s timeline alternates between the early 1980s and 2012-2014. The past focuses on Dustin Tillman, his adopted brother Rusty, and his two cousins Katy and Wave. The central mystery is who massacred Dustin’s parents and aunt and uncle. It’s set against the 80s hysteria around satanic cults and repressed memories. This mystery was definitely my favorite part of the book. The author definitely did his research into the horrible witch hunts that destroyed so many lives. Dustin and Rusty’s relationship is complicated, and even though Rusty turns out to be innocent of the murders, as an adult, he himself admits to doing some pretty horrible things to Dustin. Because of this I didn’t feel as much sympathy for him as I ordinarily would have for an innocent person being railroaded by the legal system. Dustin as a child is an extremely complex character and enigmatic one. I felt so sorry for him, but as the story of his childhood unfolds it becomes apparent that there’s something not quite right about him. Whether this is related to his and Rusty’s relationship, or the murders, or something more sinister, is the big question. As an adult, he seems to have put everything behind him. He’s a successful psychologist, with a wonderful wife and two teenage sons. But when one of his patients who’s an ex-cop brings to his attention a series of mysterious drownings of young men, he immediately partners up with him in this crazy investigation that completely crosses the boundaries of professional patient/doctor relationships. Honestly, the whole thing made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever. Adding to my confusion was Chaon’s writing style. There are sentences left uncompleted, chapters that are nothing but columns which was so bizarre, I wound up skimming the majority of them, and the choppy transition between the past and the present, as well as the different viewpoints of multiple characters. I was hoping at least the ending would answer my questions, but it didn’t. The identity of the serial killer was revealed, although I had already guessed who it was, but there were numerous plot holes that were never filled, and I was left unsure as to who really murdered Dustin’s family. Overall, this was just a convoluted mess from start to finish, and I confess I’m really annoyed because it could have been a fantastic mystery/suspense novel. However, it’s gotten some rave reviews on Goodreads, as well as from critics at the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Entertainment Weekly, which has left me second guessing myself and wondering what did I miss.