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Set in Milwaukee during the “Dahmer summer” of 1991, A remarkable debut novel for fans of Mary Gaitskill and Gillian Flynn about two sisters—one who disappears, and one who is left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. In the summer of 1991, a teenage girl named Dee McBride vanished in the city of Milwaukee. Nearly thirty years later, her sister, Peg, is still haunted by Set in Milwaukee during the “Dahmer summer” of 1991, A remarkable debut novel for fans of Mary Gaitskill and Gillian Flynn about two sisters—one who disappears, and one who is left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. In the summer of 1991, a teenage girl named Dee McBride vanished in the city of Milwaukee. Nearly thirty years later, her sister, Peg, is still haunted by her sister's disappearance. Their mother, on her deathbed, is desperate to find out what happened to Dee so the  family hires a psychic to help find Dee’s body and bring them some semblance of peace.  The appearance of the psychic plunges Peg back to the past, to those final carefree months when she last saw Dee—the summer the Journal Sentinel called “the deadliest . . . in the history of Milwaukee.” Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s heinous crimes dominated the headlines and overwhelmed local law enforcement. The disappearance of one girl was easily overlooked. Peg’s hazy recollections are far from easy for her to interpret, assess, or even keep clear in her mind. And now digging deep into her memory raises doubts and difficult—even terrifying—questions. Was there anything Peg could have done to prevent Dee’s disappearance? Who was really to blame for the family's loss? How often are our memories altered by the very act of voicing them? And what does it mean to bear witness in a world where even our own stories are inherently suspect? A heartbreaking page-turner, Willa C. Richards’ debut novel is the story of a broken family looking for answers in the face of the unknown, and asks us to reconsider the power and truth of memory.


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Set in Milwaukee during the “Dahmer summer” of 1991, A remarkable debut novel for fans of Mary Gaitskill and Gillian Flynn about two sisters—one who disappears, and one who is left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. In the summer of 1991, a teenage girl named Dee McBride vanished in the city of Milwaukee. Nearly thirty years later, her sister, Peg, is still haunted by Set in Milwaukee during the “Dahmer summer” of 1991, A remarkable debut novel for fans of Mary Gaitskill and Gillian Flynn about two sisters—one who disappears, and one who is left to pick up the pieces in the aftermath. In the summer of 1991, a teenage girl named Dee McBride vanished in the city of Milwaukee. Nearly thirty years later, her sister, Peg, is still haunted by her sister's disappearance. Their mother, on her deathbed, is desperate to find out what happened to Dee so the  family hires a psychic to help find Dee’s body and bring them some semblance of peace.  The appearance of the psychic plunges Peg back to the past, to those final carefree months when she last saw Dee—the summer the Journal Sentinel called “the deadliest . . . in the history of Milwaukee.” Serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s heinous crimes dominated the headlines and overwhelmed local law enforcement. The disappearance of one girl was easily overlooked. Peg’s hazy recollections are far from easy for her to interpret, assess, or even keep clear in her mind. And now digging deep into her memory raises doubts and difficult—even terrifying—questions. Was there anything Peg could have done to prevent Dee’s disappearance? Who was really to blame for the family's loss? How often are our memories altered by the very act of voicing them? And what does it mean to bear witness in a world where even our own stories are inherently suspect? A heartbreaking page-turner, Willa C. Richards’ debut novel is the story of a broken family looking for answers in the face of the unknown, and asks us to reconsider the power and truth of memory.

30 review for The Comfort of Monsters

  1. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    It's taken a while, but I'm going to rate this four stars. I'm also going to be honest and admit how much I struggled with this book. I don't think it was marketed incorrectly, but this is definitely not for readers who struggle with character based stories. I like them, but they are something I'm acquiring a taste for still so I found this challenging. Let me explain: Peg's sister, Dee, disappeared in the summer of 1991 in Milwaukee. Her disappearance failed to receive the publicity it needed in It's taken a while, but I'm going to rate this four stars. I'm also going to be honest and admit how much I struggled with this book. I don't think it was marketed incorrectly, but this is definitely not for readers who struggle with character based stories. I like them, but they are something I'm acquiring a taste for still so I found this challenging. Let me explain: Peg's sister, Dee, disappeared in the summer of 1991 in Milwaukee. Her disappearance failed to receive the publicity it needed in part due to 1) failure for those closest to Dee to realize she was missing 2) the now infamous serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer's victims were just discovered and 3) the police not taking it seriously. All this was a perfect mix for Dee's case to grow cold. The entire book goes back and forth between the summer of 1991 and present time where we see how much Dee's disappearance destroyed her family. Peg is stuck and becomes obsessed with her sister's case and works dead end jobs, has failed relationship after failed relationship because she is constantly working on ways to further the investigation. The family decides to hire a TV psychic to try and locate Dee's body. I thought this was going to be more of a literary mystery. I don't necessarily want to dissuade anyone from reading this book, but not much "happens". The focus isn't necessarily on the case (however it is certainly discussed and a secondary plot point), the book is more about how all the factors I mentioned above interfere with the case, as well as what a family member's disappearance can do to a family. More simply put, it's depressing, yet well written and researched and brings up very valid points. I just don't know what I took from it. It just kind of underscores everything we all know from listening to true crime podcasts or other books about subjects like this. Police investigations can fail miserably, family members can turn on each other and forget things and sometimes there is no resolution. This book is reality - so if you're looking for a wrapped up ending, you won't find it here. With all this being said, I will read the author's next book as I think her writing is excellent and I'm a little more prepared mentally for what is to come. Review Date: 08/04/2021 Publication Date: 07/13/2021

  2. 5 out of 5

    Nenia ✨ I yeet my books back and forth ✨ Campbell

    If you tell me a book is like Gillian Flynn, I'mma stalk the release dates on social media If you tell me a book is like Gillian Flynn, I'mma stalk the release dates on social media

  3. 5 out of 5

    Kasia

    **ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review** I don't really know what is the purpose of this book. Technically it's a story about disappearance of a young girl, Cadence, and how it influenced the life of her older sister, Peg. Everything is told from Peg's perspective and we are following two timelines - one starting couple weeks before Dee's disappearance and the second timeline happening almost thirty years later when Peg's family makes another attempt at finding out what happ **ARC provided by publisher in exchange for an honest review** I don't really know what is the purpose of this book. Technically it's a story about disappearance of a young girl, Cadence, and how it influenced the life of her older sister, Peg. Everything is told from Peg's perspective and we are following two timelines - one starting couple weeks before Dee's disappearance and the second timeline happening almost thirty years later when Peg's family makes another attempt at finding out what happened with Cadence. I must admit that the prospect of hiring a famous psychic to find the body sparked my interested and made me enter the giveaway of this book but in reality this is such a minor plot line that it is barely there. That was my first disappointment. My second disappointment was the fact that we are stuck in Peg's head for the entire time and I disliked her tremendously. Her descriptions of her younger sister were so sensual they were almost sexual and I cringed every time she started dwelling on Cadence looks. Peg is also extremely misandric and because of that all men that are showing up in her narration are such despicable caricatures that they seem unreal. Every guy that have any interaction with Peg is either trying to rape her or to beat her and even guys that are supposedly in love with her are no exception to that rule. Ha! Even her 14-year old niece's boyfriend is an animal. This information obviously has no impact on the main story line but you will learn that anyway. That brings us to the fact that Peg likes to digress. A LOT. Which in turn lengthens the story and slows down the plot, turning thriller into a snooze fest. Third disappointment is the descriptions of Jefferey Dahmer case and how Milwaukee has reacted to it. Feels like it was written for the people that remember this murders, watched any documentary about them or at least visited the city because the tone of "you know what I'm talking about" made me, a person that was surprised that Dahmer was an actual murderer, pretty baffled. Needed to read some Wikipedia articles to fill the gaps. In the end I was bored most of the time.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Cindy :: leavemetomybooks ::

    I really loved the slow simmer of this book. It was beautifully written and wasn’t flashy or twisty, but kept a steady level of dread and confusion and sadness throughout. Peg's struggle to reconcile her memories while trying to figure out what happened to her sister Dee thirty years ago was heartbreaking. I was also super into it being set in Milwaukee during "the Dahmer summer" and the smart social commentary Richards included about my messed up, highly segregated, hometown and the racism and I really loved the slow simmer of this book. It was beautifully written and wasn’t flashy or twisty, but kept a steady level of dread and confusion and sadness throughout. Peg's struggle to reconcile her memories while trying to figure out what happened to her sister Dee thirty years ago was heartbreaking. I was also super into it being set in Milwaukee during "the Dahmer summer" and the smart social commentary Richards included about my messed up, highly segregated, hometown and the racism and homophobia rampant in policing (especially then, but obviously still happening today). I was 16 and lived in Milwaukee in 1991 and have vague recollections of reading about how his victims were men and that they were dismembered and that the police sent a badly injured 14-year-old boy back into the killer’s apartment to be murdered, but I didn’t really understand the full extent to which the police screwed up and how much the bias against the types of victims he targeted allowed him to operate for years before being caught. It’s all so upsetting and gross. ---- “It turns out you often have to be a lot of things to make the news care about you and to make you worthy of search and rescue. This is why you’ve heard about that woman who got kidnapped in Utah, but you can’t name a single man the serial killer murdered.” ---- I also LOVE that Richards refers to him as "the serial killer" throughout the book, rather than repeating his name over and over. We shouldn't focus on the killers. We should remember the victims and the survivors. Highly recommended! * thanks to NetGalley and Harper for the review arc. AVAILABLE July 13, 2021 *

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lavins

    This book it is not a thriller, it is not even a mystery. This is the story of a a girl that disappears without a trace and the effects of this act on her family, especially her sister. It is a very dark, dramatic ("we're all going to die and what's the point for it all" type of a book). The family does everything, eventually goes bankrupt trying to find out what really happened. **Spoilers ahead** And they still don't. And i think that's the biggest drawback of this book. After reading all the ne This book it is not a thriller, it is not even a mystery. This is the story of a a girl that disappears without a trace and the effects of this act on her family, especially her sister. It is a very dark, dramatic ("we're all going to die and what's the point for it all" type of a book). The family does everything, eventually goes bankrupt trying to find out what really happened. **Spoilers ahead** And they still don't. And i think that's the biggest drawback of this book. After reading all the negative, suicidal, pessimistic, dark thoughts (as the book is related from Peg's perspective, the sister), it all adds up to nothing because they still don't find out anything and you are at the end back to square one. So this book is not a thriller, because nothing thrilling is happening. It's the anatomy of a painful life of the surviving family of a disappeared child. And the life they live is somewhere around 2 inches above death hence the somber, gloomy atmosphere.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Cheri

    Couldn’t put this down once I started it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

    Cannot overstate it: This is the Book of Summer 2021 – an absolute page turner perfect for beach reading or a long weekend. The Comfort of Monsters is engagingly told in two, alternating timelines just before and years after the disappearance of a young woman in Milwaukee, WI during Jeffrey Dahmer’s summer of 1991. While it is an engrossing psychological thriller, the novel is really rooted in the relationships between its impressive cast of characters and at its core the relationship between tw Cannot overstate it: This is the Book of Summer 2021 – an absolute page turner perfect for beach reading or a long weekend. The Comfort of Monsters is engagingly told in two, alternating timelines just before and years after the disappearance of a young woman in Milwaukee, WI during Jeffrey Dahmer’s summer of 1991. While it is an engrossing psychological thriller, the novel is really rooted in the relationships between its impressive cast of characters and at its core the relationship between two sisters, exploring intimacy, truth and memory. The Comfort of Monsters is a definite conversation starter that feels truly of this moment – a great book club choice! You will definitely NOT regret picking this one up!

  8. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    This novel is an absolute masterpiece. I have now re-read it several times, each time getting drawn more and more into this beautiful and heartbreaking world Richards has created. Set in Milwaukee this novel follows the story of a family reliving the summer they lost Dee McBride. It masterfully flashes between the summer Dee disappears and 2019 as they push for one last attempt at finding her, going to lengths they never imagined. The relationships are vivid and tangible with the true love story This novel is an absolute masterpiece. I have now re-read it several times, each time getting drawn more and more into this beautiful and heartbreaking world Richards has created. Set in Milwaukee this novel follows the story of a family reliving the summer they lost Dee McBride. It masterfully flashes between the summer Dee disappears and 2019 as they push for one last attempt at finding her, going to lengths they never imagined. The relationships are vivid and tangible with the true love story of what it means to be and have a sister as the golden thread throughout the novel. Cannot recommend this debut novel enough!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Matt Paolillo

    Yikes Confounding, self-indulgent, and ultimately a waste of time. The narrator is a misandric sociopath who occasionally sexualizes her own missing sister. 1 star for the Kopps references.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tess

    This story is a brilliant and gripping commentary on gender, sexuality, and intimate relationships that intersects with the ineffectiveness, ignorance and subsequent violence that local government and media can perpetuate. The author has seamlessly woven together the timelines of a seemingly fun-loving 90s summer turned nightmare that still haunts a family nearly thirty years later. When a famous ghost talker comes to town, the sister of a woman who disappeared that fateful summer in Milwaukee t This story is a brilliant and gripping commentary on gender, sexuality, and intimate relationships that intersects with the ineffectiveness, ignorance and subsequent violence that local government and media can perpetuate. The author has seamlessly woven together the timelines of a seemingly fun-loving 90s summer turned nightmare that still haunts a family nearly thirty years later. When a famous ghost talker comes to town, the sister of a woman who disappeared that fateful summer in Milwaukee tries to grapple with the harsh realities of her sister’s and her own abusive relationships and an ever-fleeting search for answers about her sister's disappearance. The story sheds light on a cultural obsession with murder and depravity that consumes and isolates those both near and far from tragedy.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Bobby Lewis

    Richards lures the reader into the muddled memory of the protagonist, creating a window into the coping mechanisms and delusions of victims. The timeliness of the author's commentary on predatory media and apathetic law enforcement should not go unnoticed. From domestic abuse to dealing with the loss of a loved one, The Comfort of Monsters provides an empathetic perspective of how cruel life can be. I highly recommend this read, especially if you have an appetite for self reflection. Richards lures the reader into the muddled memory of the protagonist, creating a window into the coping mechanisms and delusions of victims. The timeliness of the author's commentary on predatory media and apathetic law enforcement should not go unnoticed. From domestic abuse to dealing with the loss of a loved one, The Comfort of Monsters provides an empathetic perspective of how cruel life can be. I highly recommend this read, especially if you have an appetite for self reflection.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robby Harrington

    Dark, gritty and extremely thrilling. Reminded me of The Devil in the White City.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Lindsay Hunter

    This book is extremely my shit. And one of the most poetic endings I’ve ever read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stacey-Lea

    I went into The Comfort of Monsters thinking it was a thriller but this is very much not a thriller, more an adult literary fiction with slight mystery and intrigue though these are not the focus. It’s a heavy but well written character study. Richards focuses on relationships, with family, with partners and with oneself, with the backdrop of the case. So, if books focused on characters isn’t your thing, then this might not be for you. I however, really enjoyed it. It was devastating and beautif I went into The Comfort of Monsters thinking it was a thriller but this is very much not a thriller, more an adult literary fiction with slight mystery and intrigue though these are not the focus. It’s a heavy but well written character study. Richards focuses on relationships, with family, with partners and with oneself, with the backdrop of the case. So, if books focused on characters isn’t your thing, then this might not be for you. I however, really enjoyed it. It was devastating and beautiful. I have to also note the level of detail in the historical facts of Milwaukee in the early 1990s, and say that it is also very well handled. I especially loved that Richards notes the victims names but chooses to dub Dahmer as the ‘serial killer’. There’s nothing glorified in here and it all feels very real. I left the novel wondering if I had actually picked up a memoir rather than a fiction piece. The ending wasn’t what I hoped for but as with life you don’t always get what you want.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ashley Ferrell

    I’m really not sure what the point of this book was. Nothing solved in the end just full of misery and bleakness. Should have skipped it.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paige

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Almost a DNF but was hoping the ending would be worth it. Spoiler alert: nothing is resolved after 383 pages of drudgery with unlikable characters.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Robyn

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. So. Much. Awful. First of all, how is the synopsis going to drag attention to the psychic when in all actuality there is no real substance to that plot line at all. It’s only there to have a reason to talk about Dahmer and that serial killers are glamorized while the victims are thrown to the side. Honestly, had the author wrote a book about that—about the victims being forgotten and done it without trying to (and failing to) make some artsy metaphor for the idea—I would have likely been interes So. Much. Awful. First of all, how is the synopsis going to drag attention to the psychic when in all actuality there is no real substance to that plot line at all. It’s only there to have a reason to talk about Dahmer and that serial killers are glamorized while the victims are thrown to the side. Honestly, had the author wrote a book about that—about the victims being forgotten and done it without trying to (and failing to) make some artsy metaphor for the idea—I would have likely been interested. However, this isn’t what happened. What ended up happening is that neither story was told an its entirety. The author was so stuck on slamming in long winded passages about “the infamous serial killer” and the forgotten victims that they were never able to actually tell Dee and Peg’s story. And oh dear god, Peg/Pegasus/Margaret. The. Absolute. Worst. I had to keep reminding myself that this was supposed to be a nearly 50 year old woman when it read like she was a whiny, surly teenager. AND. What was up with the super almost-sexual descriptions/thoughts about her sister, Dee? I highlighted at least one of them while reading…I just don’t get it? Especially when we get to the “twist” that felt like a stumble, and there’s this big talk about how Dee was cast aside because of her “promiscuity” AND BLAH BLAH BLAH I’m bored just trying to review this. Anyway, there is no ending except for some ridiculous water washing sand “clean”/life and a clean slate and whatever comparison that made me want to throw my phone across the room. Straight up 1 ⭐️ from me.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Carey Calvert

    The human ear is a very delicate thing. “You’re going to have to tell the truth eventually.” “I am telling the truth.” “Tell it better.” When an unreliable narrator tells you she’s unreliable, does the story then … become reliable? Buffeted by rules of evidence, author Willa C. Richards takes the reader by the hand through the garbage strewn streets of Milwaukee, an odd, yet fitting paradox; a coaxing backdrop to a tale of a sister gone missing. It becomes as lurid as it is raw. It’s That summer in Mi The human ear is a very delicate thing. “You’re going to have to tell the truth eventually.” “I am telling the truth.” “Tell it better.” When an unreliable narrator tells you she’s unreliable, does the story then … become reliable? Buffeted by rules of evidence, author Willa C. Richards takes the reader by the hand through the garbage strewn streets of Milwaukee, an odd, yet fitting paradox; a coaxing backdrop to a tale of a sister gone missing. It becomes as lurid as it is raw. It’s That summer in Milwaukee, the summer of the serial killer, whose story so informs the novel, that by the sheer weight of its parallel nature, forces you to remain in the same space, draining not only critical resources from law enforcement but the collective psychosis of the community, as well as the mental fortitude of the aggrieved family. There’s not only the fear Candace (Dee) may have been one of the serial killer’s victims, there’s also the fear that her older sister, Margaret (Peg), may be in danger as well. This perceived danger is not only from the neighborhood in which Peg lives, but men. Men. Richards relishes the opportunity to not only inform, at one point naming all of the serial killer’s victims, but also to expose the Milwaukee Police Department’s (MPD) peculiar obliviousness as well as the adjoining culpability of the media (specifically The Milwaukee Journal, now Journal Sentinel), to what is actually going on in the community they ‘serve.’ I read the account of Glenda Cleveland (look her up), and was once again, appalled. A boy might have been saved. Dee’s disappearance however, is not the only element that propels the novel, which makes The Comfort of Monsters an amalgamation; an undeniably unique tale steeped in three dimensional loss and family dysfunction, rather than a superficial crime novel solely motivated by a missing girl. Told in flashbacks to provide context and a depth so subversive, it stings when I thought it would breathe, Richards voices the novel through the older sister. Peg is so wracked by guilt, that you feel the guilt metastasize, mainly through the men upon whom she is forced to rely; but in her current state of mind, has little choice. There’s her brother, Peter; boyfriend Leif, Dee’s boyfriend, Frank, and the detective, Wolski (no relation *wink*). The Comfort of Monsters defies categorization. It’s wrenching and well written, raw and riveting, and like the Milwaukee described therein, pulls you to the dregs, willingly. I found not one redeemable character in the story. The only redemption is in the telling.   

  19. 5 out of 5

    Chloe

    Absolute GARBAGE. every single page was insufferable. i thought this was going to be a poetic, heartwrenching book based off the cover and title, but this was a sh*t sandwich packed full of anti-men rhetoric and inflammatory political nonsense that has nothing to do with the story. the protagonist is constantly sexualizing her younger, missing sister, to the point where i was extremely uncomfortable continuing the story. this book was marketed as a drama/mystery, and it was just page after page Absolute GARBAGE. every single page was insufferable. i thought this was going to be a poetic, heartwrenching book based off the cover and title, but this was a sh*t sandwich packed full of anti-men rhetoric and inflammatory political nonsense that has nothing to do with the story. the protagonist is constantly sexualizing her younger, missing sister, to the point where i was extremely uncomfortable continuing the story. this book was marketed as a drama/mystery, and it was just page after page of a whiny protagonist trashing men and not understanding how the world works. DNF trigger warnings: rape

  20. 4 out of 5

    J.M. Holmes

    This book is an example of what extreme care, research, and an incredible depth of curiosity and empathy can yield. In a world where so often the "True Crime" and whodunits we're left with lack any sense of breadth or fullness... or lets be honest, reality (especially in the realm of TV and Movies) Richards' novel delivers such an intensely lived in experience you could mistake the acute pain of loss for your own. That's not to say that some contemporary crime narratives aren't great (fan or the This book is an example of what extreme care, research, and an incredible depth of curiosity and empathy can yield. In a world where so often the "True Crime" and whodunits we're left with lack any sense of breadth or fullness... or lets be honest, reality (especially in the realm of TV and Movies) Richards' novel delivers such an intensely lived in experience you could mistake the acute pain of loss for your own. That's not to say that some contemporary crime narratives aren't great (fan or the first season of True Detective, for the record, and love 95% of Walter Moseley and Chester Himes detective fiction) but by and large I come across readers that pick up books in this genre space to see good triumph over evil, a caring investigator solve the case, and to reaffirm their world views that normally include some version of: the scary, ugly, devastating things happen OUT THERE, away from me and mine. No motivation to engage with art is better or worse than others, but to criticize a book for not striking the emotional tone you set out to find seems extremely subjective and limiting. Why not just say "this wasn't the tone I was looking for?" Because sadly, any suggestion that tragedy was amplified unrealistically is just NOT the reality (statistically speaking, NOT stating an opinion here: nationally in the U.S. we're down to just 69% of all murders being solved in a given year, adjusting for race it can be as disparate as -- 1 in 3 murders of Black people are solved vs 9 out of 10 for white people, obviously there are a lot of variables within those statistics, but it gives you a sense. Not to mention, out of the 600,000 people that go missing each year, if you're not found within the first year, the chances you'll EVER be found plummet) I list these statistics only to talk about one of the central themes/ideas explored in Richards' novel and, I'm assuming, the reason for the title itself -- we as a society are TERRIBLE at identifying monsters and our biases are directly responsible for what we can and cannot SEE when it comes to wickedness, viciousness, and the horrible things we often do to one another. Therefore, if these people were deplorable or monstrous to you and you can't envision a world in which they exist, SPOILER, you're living in it already, and the systems you're a part of RIGHT THIS MOMENT are potentially perpetuating hardship or creating more monstrous individuals. This too, sadly, has been borne out time and again throughout history (I won't list any examples here because this review would never end). I for one, was thoroughly engrossed in this debut, but I also don't approach books for confirmation bias (c'mon people, we have the internet for that and Google makes it SO DAMN EASY, haha). Did I like reading example after example depicting heinous actions perpetrated by men... no, of course not. Does my taking offense to some of this descriptions or musings invalidate these characters and their plot lines? No, of course not (I would've hoped that the publicity of #MeToo would've taught straight men to examine our actions more thoroughly regardless of whether or not we feel our actions and intentions are morally upstanding and not to underestimate the prevalence of our transgressions). Richards debut is truly an accomplishment, managing to balance multi-faceted and nuanced storylines that delve into the tenuousness of memory, the enduring pain of loss, and the tender idiosyncratic and often fraught bonds of family set against the more macro-machinations that come with systemic iniquities and the negligent practices of some institutions all wrapped in prose both poetic and accessible -- a true love letter to the city of Milwaukee in its own honest and open way.... "When I look back now, I see how it was over almost before it began, but at the time I felt the whole, hot promise of a life with him. I still remember our belongings on the sidewalk outside that apartment building. There was trash everywhere. Springtime turns the city of Milwaukee briefly into a landfill. The snowmelt from the most stubborn snow banks reveals heaps of trash; cigarette butts, dog shit, shredded newspapers and magazines, vomit, crushed cans, and plastic bags whipped into stringy ropes. Each year, after resident weatherman John Malan has determined the city won’t be visited by any more snowstorms, they send inmates out to collect all the winter trash in white plastic bags. Afterwards they cart the trash away to the landfills west of the city, and they bring out pressurized hoses and spray the sidewalks and the streets down with water pumped fresh out of Lake Michigan. I love the smell of cold water on concrete. That’s spring to me, not tulips or daffodils or rain, but Lake Michigan’s cold bathwater washed over the whole city. " --Willa C. Richards

  21. 4 out of 5

    Laura Peden

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Ugh!!! This is the second book I’ve read in a row with a shitty ending 🙄 This could’ve been a 4-5 star review, as this book hits close to home. I was nearly the same age as these sisters during the “Dahmer summer” of 1991. I live 30 minutes away from Milwaukee and the author did an extremely good job of recreating this particular time in history. However, the book is centered around the disappearance of Dee and there is no resolution to the mystery… I fucking hate that she didn’t give me the ans Ugh!!! This is the second book I’ve read in a row with a shitty ending 🙄 This could’ve been a 4-5 star review, as this book hits close to home. I was nearly the same age as these sisters during the “Dahmer summer” of 1991. I live 30 minutes away from Milwaukee and the author did an extremely good job of recreating this particular time in history. However, the book is centered around the disappearance of Dee and there is no resolution to the mystery… I fucking hate that she didn’t give me the answers I waited 11.5 hrs for. So unfortunate ☹️

  22. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    Was this a debut novel? If so, I’m very impressed. This writer can certainly pack a punch and ignite your anxiety and worst fears in less than 400 pages. This novel was bleak but in a very satiating way. Don’t get me wrong - the resolution is pretty much non existent, so don’t go into it thinking you’re going to get a happy ending. Things are certainly left unresolved in a broad sense, but you kind of understand that as the book draws to a close because the resignation of these characters was wr Was this a debut novel? If so, I’m very impressed. This writer can certainly pack a punch and ignite your anxiety and worst fears in less than 400 pages. This novel was bleak but in a very satiating way. Don’t get me wrong - the resolution is pretty much non existent, so don’t go into it thinking you’re going to get a happy ending. Things are certainly left unresolved in a broad sense, but you kind of understand that as the book draws to a close because the resignation of these characters was written so well that you can’t help but be infected by it, too. By the end, I was left feeling crushed but I accepted it, because in reality, fumbled missing women’s cases like Dee’s are far more common than not (especially for minorities) and this author had a poignant way of presenting this harsh, ugly real world ending rather than let you drift off into a cozy fictional alternative. It was refreshing, but gritty. Am I making sense? Lol. Definitely recommend it and advise those of you curious to read it to do so with an open mind.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Parker J

    DNF I really wanted to like this one but I kept trying to get into it and never could

  24. 4 out of 5

    Olivia

    I enjoyed the details about my hometown, Milwaukee, and learning a little bit of history about it through the story. Lots of new insights into the landscape, landmarks, and communities as they have developed over the years- clearly really well researched! A very fast read, which is always fun. I just gobbled the story up and was pleasantly surprised by the ending. Rather cinematic in nature, I could see it doing well in television.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    4.5 stars

  26. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    So this is weird, because Willa and I had a class together (same PhD program at UWM, but different cohorts), have mutual friends, and are connected on social media. I've been really excited about this book for awhile, and I still am. This is such a Milwaukee novel--if you live here, you'll get it! Commentaries on neighborhoods, highways, references to Milwaukee institutions like Ma Fischer's and Kopps--pretty cool. There's a fleeting reference to my hometown, too--it's always weird to see stuff So this is weird, because Willa and I had a class together (same PhD program at UWM, but different cohorts), have mutual friends, and are connected on social media. I've been really excited about this book for awhile, and I still am. This is such a Milwaukee novel--if you live here, you'll get it! Commentaries on neighborhoods, highways, references to Milwaukee institutions like Ma Fischer's and Kopps--pretty cool. There's a fleeting reference to my hometown, too--it's always weird to see stuff like that in print. But, there's just too much happening. Too many tangents and commentaries and ideas that distract and detract from the central story, which is the story of Peg and her missing sister, Dee. Second, and this is small in the scheme of things, Willa uses Riverwest constantly, even when it's awkward. No one talks like that! They don't say, "Drive me to Riverwest." They say, "Drive me home" or "Drive me to [specific location]." Maybe this was for the benefit of non-Milwaukee readers? I mean, Riverwest isn't a borough like the Bronx. Third, love the critiques of MPD (then and now) which are more than deserved. Loved, loved all the Milwaukee stuff, though I promise the city is more beautiful than it's often described in the novel (especially these days)! Also, I went down a deep hole reading about Ambrosia chocolates, which is where one character works and was a real place downtown. Everything just felt icky, dirty, grimy, worn down--the cars, people, homes, city, offices--and it felt appropriate for the story. The atmosphere and mood was so clear and well done. If you didn't know how much Willa loves the city, though, you may not realize it from this book. Loved the backdrop of the Dahmer case--I mean, how many people's murders and disappearances and other crimes were unsolved because of it? This story is fictional, but I'm guessing there are plenty of people here in Milwaukee in 1991 who had similar experiences with the police. The ever-growing fears and ominous hints of danger at every turn (men harassing Dee and/or Peg, missing gay men and boys, police violence, toxic masculinity, drug induced violence, sexual violence) foreshadow something terrible. We know it's Jeffrey Dahmer, who was caught in 1991 and Willa does an incredible job of showing the frenzy that ensued. She also does a great job of showing what got lost. In an effort to center the victims, she doesn't use his name and gives space to the victims' names. But--here's a weird thing--she also elaborates on his crimes, his background, his previous trial and conviction as a sex offender, the body parts found in his home, his address, and more. Why give that much ink to him, then? This book is also tough because there's no one to really root for, except maybe Dana. It's a story of a family's grief and inability to move past trauma and loss--on one hand, it's understandable. The loss of their daughter/sister/niece at such a young age and without any answers must be devastating. How does anyone recover from that? But after 30 years--THIRTY!--Peg still is still closed-off, drunk, unemployed, and broke. You'd think she would get her life somewhat together at some point. It's not clear what any of them want, other than Ma, who just wants to be buried by her daughter. Peg doesn't even want justice necessarily--more like revenge on Frank, but it's not even clear what that would look like or entail. This family is broken, financially and emotionally, and there's so much unsaid that it's just eating them alive. They blame themselves, each other, and just acquiesce to keep some semblance of peace. It isn't living. It's barely even surviving. Peg is a difficult protagonist, because even in the 1991 sections, she doesn't seem to know what she wants, other than to hang out with Dee. A lot of Peg's problems stem from her unresolved and possibly romantic feelings for her sister? (That last part is subtext.) The sheer number of times she refers to her sister as "baby," spoons her, thinks about kissing her, refers to her beauty and body, and more was creeping me out. I have two sisters and would never, ever behave this way towards them. I can't imagine anyone I know who'd behave that way towards their sister(s). My theories aside, I would recommend it and did like it. I'm not giving in any stars just because I don't know what it would be. I've been thinking about the book often since I finished it--it's stuck with me. I love the noir/thriller/mystery aspect of it and was really hoping it would end with Peg becoming alive again the way Milwaukee has had a lot of renewal and growth and change--that the city and the protagonist would mirror one another--but that was maybe too predictable.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This book was beautifully written, with descriptions and imagery that did a great job of evoking both sensory and emotional feelings. As a lifelong Milwaukee resident, I enjoyed reading a story that was set here, with sights, sounds, and landmarks depicted accurately. It wasn't always pretty, but it was well-done. At times, I felt like I could smell, taste, or hear something that was being described, and I wonder if readers who don't live here felt that too. I've read reviews that complain about This book was beautifully written, with descriptions and imagery that did a great job of evoking both sensory and emotional feelings. As a lifelong Milwaukee resident, I enjoyed reading a story that was set here, with sights, sounds, and landmarks depicted accurately. It wasn't always pretty, but it was well-done. At times, I felt like I could smell, taste, or hear something that was being described, and I wonder if readers who don't live here felt that too. I've read reviews that complain about the lack of resolution to the mystery at the core of this story, and I've read books myself that I've felt were ruined by this very thing. This book was so much about the longing and the heartbreak of not knowing, and about loss - and those things were depicted so well - that it worked, for me, at least. Many people never find out what happens to their lost loved ones; we aren't owed an answer here. That was one of the points of the story - injustice. The families in this story who did find out what happened to those they lost had different elements of injustice - apathy, prejudice, denial, disbelief - meted out by those who were supposed to be helping, or at least showing sympathy. It was an interesting tactic to set this story over the backdrop of the "Dahmer Summer," which added a pall of horror and grief. I liked the attention given to the victims, and their families, and the sparing way the author used the killer's actual name, in a way depriving him of recognition. Also impressive was the compelling nature of this book, and the extent to which I liked reading about these sisters. I could hardly put it down. Impressive because neither really came across as a great or likable person. But their relationship, connection, arguments, conversations, were all so realistic and detailed, it just pulled me in. It stuck with me, too, that neither really were able to grow up and have a chance to exit those irresponsible late teen years, as one was killed and the other may as well have been. There is a glimmer of hope at the end for Peg, largely thanks to Dana, probably my favorite character. The psychic angle was a bit odd to me, and the only element that I thought didn't really blend well. He was such an odd character, too, and I found it strange that he was so young. I suppose it added some punch to the 2019 chapters, as less was happening then. Loved it, will definitely read more by this author.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Kathy

    The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C. Richards is a grim mystery which weaves back and forth in time. In 1991, Margaret “Peg” McBride is completely enthralled with her boyfriend, Leif Gunnarson. They live together in a hovel and spend a lot of their time drinking and partying. Peg is also trying to convince Leif to do better by his younger brother Erik. Erik is gay and the majority of his family turned their back on him so he is completely on his own in a time when gay men keep going missing. Peg’s The Comfort of Monsters by Willa C. Richards is a grim mystery which weaves back and forth in time. In 1991, Margaret “Peg” McBride is completely enthralled with her boyfriend, Leif Gunnarson. They live together in a hovel and spend a lot of their time drinking and partying. Peg is also trying to convince Leif to do better by his younger brother Erik. Erik is gay and the majority of his family turned their back on him so he is completely on his own in a time when gay men keep going missing. Peg’s younger sister Candace aka Dee is attending college and she is involved with Frank, who is in his mid-thirties. The sisters’ relationship is fraught but they are quick to forgive when things go wrong between them.  After a blurry July fourth together, Dee leaves Peg’s apartment and seemingly vanishes into thin air. Unfortunately, her disappearance occurs just as the Milwaukee police arrest Jeffrey Dahmer so a missing young woman is extremely low on their radar. Fast forward to 2019 and Peg’s mother is close to dying and her only wish to find Dee’s body. Peg does not agree with her mother’s method of trying to locate her sister but her brother Pete convinces her to go along with the plan. Peg has never gotten over her guilt about Dee’s disappearance and she has now has a string of lost jobs and broken relationships behind her. She drinks too much and she remains convinced that Frank is responsible for Dee's disappearance. The family has kept in contact with the detective assigned to Dee’s case and Peg veers between anger and shame as they work together to find Dee. The Comfort of Monsters is a dark mystery with a unique storyline. Despite being the story’s narrator, Peg is a difficult character to get to know. There is little context for why she chooses the wrong men or deliberately sabotages decent relationships. She is teeming with guilt and drinks too much as she obsessively tries to solve Dee’s disappearance. Willa C. Richards provides a bleak portrait of a family who remains defined by Dee's inexplicable disappearance. This intriguing mystery comes to a realistic, yet unsatisfying, conclusion.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Allison

    I was intrigued by the premise of this book and am always a sucker for a new suspense/crime-based story, but I quickly realized this book was not for me. The overview of the book places emphasis on the fact that the story takes place in the Dahmer summer in Milwaukee, but the book has literally almost nothing to do with him or that story line at all. Towards the end it does become sightly relevant, but mostly is not at all discussed and has nothing to do with the story except for setting some co I was intrigued by the premise of this book and am always a sucker for a new suspense/crime-based story, but I quickly realized this book was not for me. The overview of the book places emphasis on the fact that the story takes place in the Dahmer summer in Milwaukee, but the book has literally almost nothing to do with him or that story line at all. Towards the end it does become sightly relevant, but mostly is not at all discussed and has nothing to do with the story except for setting some context. My other issue with this novel is the way the author describes the sibling relationship between the narrator and her sister. It gets really weird at some points because the the narrator constantly talks about her urge to touch and kiss her sister, pushing on genuine attraction to her sister. I know part of this is to show the questionable reliability of the narrator recounting her memories but it genuinely got uncomfortable at some points. I also found the characters unlikeable in general. It makes it hard to care about how things turn out for someone when you don’t feel for them. If you enjoy novels about family trauma and relationships, young women trying to figure out their place in the world, and toxic character development over time, you would probably enjoy this book a lot more than I did. But if you’re looking for a suspenseful novel about solving a cold-case murder, you’ll be disappointed here.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlyn

    (2.5 stars) What I liked: -The Milwaukee setting was so detailed and accurate. As someone who has lived here the majority of my life, I loved reading about it and knowing everything the author was referencing. -The writing was well done with beautiful language. I also liked the pacing and fast chapters. -The side-characters were interesting and I wanted to know more about them What I didn't like: -The plot (or lack thereof). Nothing happened, which was frustrating to read. It read more like lite (2.5 stars) What I liked: -The Milwaukee setting was so detailed and accurate. As someone who has lived here the majority of my life, I loved reading about it and knowing everything the author was referencing. -The writing was well done with beautiful language. I also liked the pacing and fast chapters. -The side-characters were interesting and I wanted to know more about them What I didn't like: -The plot (or lack thereof). Nothing happened, which was frustrating to read. It read more like literary fiction rather than a mystery. It's certainly not a thriller -Some of this book commented on the Dahmer murders and how Black, LGBTQ murders aren't taken seriously by law enforcement which allows serial killers to keep killing people for long periods of time. But then there was the main character who recognized this and was like, "but my white, blonde sister's case wasn't taken seriously either..." which...🤦‍♀️ -Going off of the main character, she was boring and border-line annoying -And finally, the ending was not for me and what really solidified my final rating. It may be for some people, but when it comes to mysteries, it bothers me.

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