cover image The Comfort of Monsters

The Comfort of Monsters

Willa C. Richards. Harper, $27.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-305302-1

Richards’s devastating debut dovetails the story of a young Milwaukee woman’s 1991 disappearance with the city’s legacy of the Jeffrey Dahmer murders. Peg McBride, 48, lives in the shadow of her younger sister, Dee, who vanished at 19 the same summer Dahmer was caught. After a second stroke, the sisters’ mother wants some closure about Dee before she dies, and so hires TV psychic Thomas Alexander, who is in town to promote ghost tours of the gay bars frequented by Dahmer and his victims, to find out what happened to Dee. Peg is initially dubious. The story toggles back and forth between 2019 and 1991, where Richards introduces the three main suspects in Dee’s disappearance, including Dee’s older boyfriend, Frank, a fireman-in-training with a coarse manner. Peg thinks Frank is responsible, but has an impossible task proving it to the detectives, who have their hands full with the Dahmer revelations. Back in the present, Thomas claims to know where to find Dee’s body. The author does an excellent job of showing Peg at two different points in her life and depicting how she is perpetually trapped between guilt and hope as she acquiesces to Thomas’s methods. The other characters are equally well drawn. In a glut of dead girl stories and true crime vehicles, Richards pulls of a wrenching and rewarding twist on both. (July)