Tuesday, June 2, 2020


THE MONSTERS WE MAKE by Kali White (Crooked Lane Books, 2020)

Reviewed by Craig Sisterson

It’s August 1984, and paperboy Christopher Stewart has gone missing. Hours later, twelve-year-old Sammy Cox hurries home from his own paper route, red-faced and out of breath, hiding a terrible secret. 

Told through interwoven perspectives, The Monsters We Make deftly explores the effects of one crime exposing another and the secrets people keep hidden from friends, families, and sometimes, even themselves.

‘Someone out there is stealing children’ – recollections of her childhood response to the real-life, unsolved Des Moines Register paperboy kidnappings in the early 1980s have been parlayed by award-winning storyteller Kali White into her first crime novel. A disturbing story of Midwestern suburban life torn asunder when young boys go missing, The Monsters We Make is a character-centric tale that focuses on the perspectives of an adolescent boy, his older teenage sister, and a depressed local cop.

Early one morning on a late summer day in 1984, young Sammy Cox scampers terrified into a church on the south side of Des Moines, his pants wet, looking for a place to hide, before taking a long, winding route home. On the same day Sammy’s fellow paperboy Christopher Stewart, goes missing. Horrid echoes of another paperboy who vanished two years before and had never been found.

Meanwhile Sammy’s older sister Crystal, a high school newspaper editor with big plans to leave town, is hunting for a story that’ll earn her a scholarship to pay for college. As their local community is rocked by Christopher’s abduction, suspicions swirl, but progress is slow for the police, including Officer Dale Goodkind, whose failure to solve an earlier case already has him teetering, near broken.

As the weeks and months pass, the secret Sammy holds festers, and the (re)actions of the police and the community spiral into devastating consequences. Officer Goodkind's promise to himself that this time he won't fail drives him beyond dedication into obsession, and as many involved leap at any sniff of a solution lives are further upturned and violence crackles through the community.

Kali White has crafted an absorbing tale which explores the impact of crime on those involved – the police who investigate it, the families and friends of the victim, the wider community – as much as the solving of a crime or unmasking of a culprit. The Monsters We Make veers into some tough territory, including child abuse, but does so with a light rather than graphic touch. White creates an extraordinary sense of time and place, before slow-building her tale to an abrupt conclusion. A thought-provoking read from a talented storyteller.

Craig Sisterson is a lawyer turned features writer from New Zealand, now living in London. In recent years he’s interviewed hundreds of crime writers and talked about the genre on national radio, top podcasts, and onstage at books festivals on three continents. He has been a judge of the Ned Kelly Awards and the McIlvanney Prize, and is founder of the Ngaio Marsh Awards and co-founder of Rotorua Noir. You can heckle him on Twitter. 

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