Book Review: Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s The Devil You Know

by Lesley-Anne Longo

Published at 2015-02-17

While reading through the January/February issue of Quill and Quire, Beth came across a review of a title that sounded so interesting, she bought it right away (at Book City on the Danforth) and brought it to the office as an “office copy.” A book we at TEC could all take a turn reading. The title? The Devil You Know, by Elisabeth de Mariaffi. 

I was lucky enough to be the first to take it home, and to begin my review, I only have one thing to say: Don’t read it alone. Or at night.

The Plot

The book, set in Toronto in 1993, follows young reporter Evie Jones as she tries to unravel a decade-old kidnapping-murder case. The case is particularly close to her, as the victim was her childhood best friend, Lianne Gagnon. The general consensus within the police and the public in general is that Lianne was abducted and murdered by Robert Cameron, a man already known to law enforcement. After the murder, he disappeared from the city, changed his name, and evaded capture ever since.

Evie begins reporting on a big news story: the arrest of Paul Bernardo, the infamous “Scarborough Rapist.” Covering the story triggers extreme emotions, and Evie begins to revisit many memories of Lianne’s murder. Her confusion and unease deepen when she looks out her kitchen window one night to find a man in black on her fire escape balcony, just standing and staring at her. 

The more Evie discovers about the circumstances surrounding Lianne’s disappearance, the less sense everything makes. As the case unravels, she realizes that Lianne’s disappearance and murder is only part of a larger narrative—a narrative that seems to be pulling her own family’s past into its web.

Elisabeth de Mariaffi does a wonderful job of making the reader feel Evie’s terror and uneasiness. The horrific details of Paul Bernardo’s crimes add to the feelings that Evie, like many women, know very well—the feelings of not being entirely safe in the world, and the harassment and fear that women experience on a daily basis.  Nowhere in the book is this fear more evident than when Evie is interacting with the man who watches her from her balcony, separated by only a pane of glass. 

Calling the police only highlights the fact that the police are unable to help her, as they try to assure her that she has a “safe house,” and that there is nothing to worry about. Evie has the option to stay with her parents, but chooses instead to stay, alone, in her apartment. As a reader, I didn’t know whether to commend her for her bravery and steadfast refusal to be frightened out of her own home or to criticize her for her stubbornness and foolhardiness.

The violence against women described in the book would be horrifying enough on its own, but placed alongside Evie’s tired acceptance of the violence she is sure she will face at some point in her life, the book’s thrilling nature takes on a darker tone.  As Evie puts the pieces of Lianne’s murder together, the reader can feel the tension as Evie gets closer and closer to danger.

My Take

In its review, Quill & Quire called de Mariaffi’s debut novel “engaging” and “witty.” Engaging, I would agree with—this book is hard to put down. Witty, I might disagree with, as I personally didn’t find any moments of real humour in the book. However, what is or is not considered funny is all a matter of personal preference, so don’t disregard this book on that account. 

All in all, The Devil You Know is a thriller that toes the line between great and disturbing—it’s a great story with a believable and realistically flawed protagonist, but as a reader I came away feeling…off, because while the story isn’t real, the threat of violence, intimidation, and harassment that women face daily is. This is yet another way de Mariaffi expertly blends aspects of real life with the fantastical, showing the reader that they may be right in being vigilant to danger. The real danger is sometimes hidden where you can’t see it at first—it’s the devil you know.

Pick up your copy at Book City (and in doing so, support independent booksellers)!