NOT SO INNOCENT: THE BYSTANDERS IN JOANN CHANEY’S WHAT YOU DON’T KNOW

Jacky Seever, the notorious serial killer, is safe behind bars, selling his prison-house paintings and biding his time in the dimming spotlight of his atrocities. Years ago he was a news sensation, one of those monsters who somehow capture the public’s imagination—think Johan Wayne Gacy and his crawlspace full of corpses. But that was seven years ago, and new horrors have eclipsed the killer in the local papers and on the late news.

Joann Chaney’s new novel What You Don’t Know isn’t really about Seever and his crimes; it’s about three people who were left floundering in his wake and what happens to them when a series of similar crimes erupts in the same Denver neighborhood.

First there’s Hoshkins, the detective who solved Seever’s case. In the ensuing years he’s grown irritable and impulsively violent—a clear case of PTSD. And his career has suffered; he’s been relegated to thumbing through cold-cases in a lonely precinct basement, while his flamboyant former partner remains in homicide.

Then there’s Sammie, the newspaper reporter who rose to prominence covering Seever’s case. She managed to get all the inside scoops, mostly because she was having an affair with Hoskins. But now she’s pushing cosmetics in the local mall, trying to figure out how to get her career—and life—back on track.

Finally, there’s Gloria, the murder’s wife, who is just trying to survive under the suspicions that have surrounded her since her husband’s. How could she not have known? How could she have been ignorant about all those bodies buried under the house? All she wants now is so be forgotten—although she counts on income from her husband’s gruesome paintings to make ends meet.

Chaney’s novel is a welcome departure from the flinty cynicism of noir crime fiction. This isn’t a story that plays gore for gore’s sake. The gore allows us watch the reactions of humans in the face of the inhumane. Don’t get me wrong: The new series of murders—and who is responsible for them—makes for a suspenseful plot, but readers will be more rooted in Chaney’s revelations about what it means to be a not-so-innocent bystander when horror happens